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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XXVI. November was now drawing to a close, and St.à

The Master-christian by Marie Corelli

XXVI. November was now drawing to a close, and St.à

November was now drawing to a close, and St. Cecilia's Day dawned in a misty sunrise, half cloud, half light, like smoke and flame intermingled. Aubrey Leigh, on waking that morning, had almost decided to leave Rome before the end of the month. He had learned all that was necessary for him to know; -- he had not come to study the antiquities, or the dark memories of dead empires, for he would have needed to live at least ten years in the city to gain even a surface knowledge of all the Romes, built one upon another, in the Rome of to-day. His main object had been to discover whether the Holy See existed as a grand and pure institution for the uplifting and the saving of the souls of men; or whether it had degenerated into an unscrupulous scheme for drawing the money out of their pockets. He had searched this problem and solved it. He had perceived the trickery, the dissimulation and hypocrisy of Roman priestcraft. He had seen the Pope officiate at High Mass in the Sistine Chapel, having procured the |introduction from very high quarters| which, even according to ordinary guide-books, is absolutely necessary, -- the |high quarters| in this instance being Monsignor Gherardi. Apart from this absurdity, -- this impious idea of needing an |introduction| to a sacred service professedly held for the worship of the Divine, by the Representative of Christ on earth, he had watched with sickening soul all the tawdry ceremonial so far removed from the simplicity of Christ's commands, -- he had stared dully, till his brows ached, at the poor, feeble, scraggy old man with the pale, withered face and dark eyes, who was chosen to represent a |Manifestation of the Deity| to his idolatrous followers; -- and as he thought of all the poverty, sorrow, pain, perplexity, and bewilderment of the |lost sheep| who were wandering to and fro in the world, scarcely able to fight the difficulties of their daily lot, and unable to believe in God because they were never allowed to understand or to experience any of His goodness, such a passion of protest arose in him, that he could have sprung on the very steps of the altar and cried aloud to the aged Manager of the Stage-scene there, |Away with this sham of Christianity! Give us the true message of Christ, undefiled! Sell these useless broidered silks, -- these flaunting banners; -- take the silver, gold, and bank- notes which hysterical pilgrims cast at your feet! -- this Peter's Pence, amounting to millions, whose exact total you alone know, -- and come out into the highways and byways of the cities of all lands, -- call to you the lame, the halt, the blind, the sickly, and diseased, -- give comfort where comfort is needed, -- defend the innocent -- protect the just, and silence the Voce de la Verita which published under your authority, callously advocates murder!|

And though he felt all this, he could only remain a dumb spectator of the Show in which not the faintest shadow of Christianity according to Christ, appeared -- and when the theatrical pageant was over, he hurried out into the fresh air half stupefied with the heavy sense of shame that such things could be, and no man found true enough to the commands of the Divine Master to shake the world with strong condemnation.

|Twelve fishermen were enough to preach the Gospel,| he thought, |Yet now there cannot be found twelve faithful souls who will protest against its falsification!|

And on St. Cecilia's morning he was in sad and sober mood, -- too vexed with himself to contemplate his future work without a sense of pain and disappointment and loneliness. He loved Sylvie Hermenstein, and admitted his passion for her frankly to his own soul, but at the same time felt that a union with her would be impossible. He had seen her nearly every day since their first introduction to each other, and had realised to the height of soul-intoxication the subtle charm of her delicate beauty, and the sweetness of her disposition. But -- (there was a but in it, -- there always is!) he was not sure of her constancy. The duel between the Marquis Fontenelle and the actor Miraudin had furnished food for gossip at all the social gatherings in Rome, and Sylvie's name, freely mentioned as the cause of the dispute, had been thus given an unpleasant notoriety. And though Aubrey Leigh was far too chivalrous and noble- natured to judge and condemn a woman without seeking for the truth from her own lips, he was indescribably annoyed to hear her spoken of in any connection with the late Marquis. He had a strong desire to ask Angela Sovrani a few questions concerning the affair, but hesitated, lest his keen personal anxiety should betray the depth of his feelings. Then, too, he was troubled by the fact that the Hermenstein family had been from time immemorial devout Romanists, and he felt that Sylvie must perforce be a firm adherent to that faith.

|Better to leave Rome!| he said to himself, |Better to shake off the witchery of her presence, and get back to England and to work. And if I cannot kill or quell this love in me, at any rate it shall serve me to good purpose, -- it shall make me a better and a braver man!|

He had promised to meet the Princesse D'Agramont that morning at the Catacombs of St. Callistus, to see the illumination of the tomb of St. Cecilia, which takes place there annually on the Saint's Feast- Day, and he knew that Angela Sovrani and the Comtesse Hermenstein were to be of the Princesse's party. He was somewhat late in starting, and hired a fiacre to drive him along the Via Appia to his destination, but when he arrived there Mass had already commenced. A Trappist monk, tall and grim and forbidding of aspect, met him at the entrance to the Catacombs with a lighted taper, and escorted him in silence through the gloomy |Oratorium| and passage of tombs, -- the torch he carried flinging ghastly reflections on the mural paintings and inscriptions, till, on reaching the tomb of St. Cecilia where the murdered saint once lay, though her remains are now enshrined in the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, the Trappist suddenly left him at a corner to attend to other incoming visitors, and disappeared. Aubrey looked around him, vaguely touched and awed by the solemnity of the scene; -- the damp walls on which old Byzantine paintings of the seventh century were still visible, though crumbling fast away, -- the glimmering lights, -- the little crowd of people pressed together, -- the brilliantly illuminated altar, -- the droning accents of the officiating priests; -- and presently the sound of a boy's exquisite young voice rose high and pure, singing the Agnus Dei. St. Cecilia herself might have been enraptured by such sweet harmony, -- and Aubrey Leigh instinctively bent his head, moved strongly by the holy and tender fervour of the anthem. Growing accustomed to the flickering lights, he presently perceived the Princesse D'Agramont a little in front of him, -- and beside her were her two friends, Angela Sovrani and Sylvie Hermenstein. Sylvie was kneeling, and her face was hidden. Angela was seated, -- and her eyes, full of the radiance of thought and dreaming genius, were fixed on the altar. Gradually he moved up till he reached the rough bench where they were all together -- the Princesse D'Agramont saw him at once, and signed to him to take a vacant place next to Sylvie. He sat down very gently -- afraid to disturb the graceful figure kneeling within touch of his hand -- how devout she seemed, he thought! But as the Agnus Dei ceased, she stirred, and rose quietly, -- as quietly as a bent flower might lift itself in the grass after the rush of the wind, -- and gave him a gentle salute, then sat down beside him, drooping her soft eyes over her prayer-book, but not before he had seen that they were wet with tears. Was she unhappy he wondered? It seemed impossible! Such a woman could never be unhappy! With beauty, health, and a sunny temperament, -- wealth and independence, what could she know of sorrow! It is strange how seldom a man can enter into the true comprehension of a woman's grief, though he may often be the cause of the trouble. A woman, if endowed with beauty and charm, ought never, in a man's opinion, to LOOK sad, whatever she may FEEL. It is her business to smile, and shine like a sunbeam on a spring morning for his delectation always. And Aubrey Leigh, though he could thoroughly appreciate and enter into the sordid woes of hard-worked and poverty-stricken womankind, was not without the same delusion that seems to possess all his sex, -- namely, that if a woman is brilliantly endowed, and has sufficient of this world's goods to ensure her plenty of friends and pretty toilettes, she need never be unhappy. Sylvie's tears were therefore a mystery to him, except when a jealous pang contracted his generally liberal and tender soul, and he thought, |Perhaps she is grieving for the Marquis Fontenelle!| He glanced at her every now and again dubiously, -- while the service went on, and the exquisite music beat rhythmic waves against the ancient walls and roof of the murdered Saint's tomb, -- but her face, fair and childlike, was a puzzle to his mind, -- he could never make out from its expression whether she were thoughtful or frivolous. Strange mistakes are often made in physiognomy. Often the so-called |intellectual| face, -- the |touch-me-not| dignity -- the |stalking- tragedy| manner, covers a total lack of brain, -- and often a large- featured, seemingly |noble| face, has served as a mask for untold depths of villainy. The delicate, small face of Nelson suggested nothing of the giant heroism in his nature, and many a pretty, and apparently frivolous woman's face, which suggests nothing but the most thoughtless gaiety, is a disguise for a strong nature capable of lofty and self-sacrificing deeds. There is nothing likely to be so deceptive as a human countenance, -- for with the exception of a few uncomfortably sincere persons, we all try to make it disguise our feelings as much as we can.

The service concluded, and St. Cecilia solemnly commended once more to her eternal rest, the people all rose and wandered like black ghosts, through the darkness of the Catacombs, following the flicker of the torches carried by the Trappist monks, who always perform the duty of guides on this occasion, -- and, once out in the open air, in the full blaze of the sunshine which had now broken brilliantly through the mist of the previously threatening rain-clouds, Aubrey Leigh saw with pain that Sylvie looked very pale and ill. He ventured to say something solicitous concerning this to the Princesse D'Agramont, whose bright dark eyes flashed over him with an enigmatical look, half wonder, half scorn.

|What strange creatures men are!| she said satirically, |Even you, clever, and gifted with an insight into human nature, seem to be actually surprised that our poor, pretty little Sylvie looks ill! With half Rome declaring that she WAS the mistress of Fontenelle, and the other half swearing itself black in the face that she IS the mistress of Gherardi, she certainly ought to be very happy, ought she not? Indeed, almost dancing with the joy and consolation of knowing how pleasant her 'Society' friends are making her life for her!|

Aubrey's heart beat violently.

|Princesse,| he said, in a low tone of vibrating earnestness, |If I thought -- if I could think such abominable lies were told of her . . .|

|Chut!| And the Princesse smiled rather sadly, -- |It is not like you to 'pretend,' Mr. Leigh -- You DO know, -- you MUST know -- that a coarse discussion over her name was the cause of the duel between the Marquis Fontenelle and that miserable vaurien of the stage, Miraudin, -- gossip generously lays the two deaths at her door -- and the poor child is as innocent of harm as the lilies we have just seen left to die in the darkness of St. Cecilia's tomb. The fact is, she came to Rome to escape the libertinage and amorous persecution of Fontenelle; and she never knew till the day she heard of his death, that he had followed her. Nor did I. In fact, I asked him to be my escort to Rome, and he refused. Naturally I imagined he was still in Paris. So we were all in the dark, -- and as often happens in such cases, when the world does not know whom to blame for a disaster, it generally elects to punish the innocent. All the Saints we have heard about this morning, bear witness to THAT truth!|

Aubrey lifted his eyes and looked yearningly at the sylph-like figure of Sylvie walking a little ahead of him with her friend Angela.

|I thought,| he said hesitatingly, -- |I confess, I thought there might have been something between her and the late Marquis . . .|

|Of course there was something!| answered the Princesse impatiently, |Oh, mon Dieu! Plus de sottises! There always IS something where Sylvie is, Mr. Leigh! She cannot smile or sing, or turn her head, or raise her eyes, or smell a bunch of violets, without some one of your audacious sex conceiving the idea of making himself agreeable and indispensable to her. And when she will not compromise herself -- (is that not your convenient little phrase?) -- she is judged much more severely than if she had done so! And do you know why? Because you men can never endure defeat in love-matters! You would rather spread abroad the rumour that you had conquered, than confess that your libertinism had been perceived and repulsed with indignation and scorn! And I will tell you another thing if you do not know it. In the frequent destruction of an innocent woman's reputation. it is a rejected suitor who generally starts the first rumour and hands the lie over to debased women, knowing that THEY may be trusted to keep it up!|

Aubrey flushed, and winced under the lash of her cutting words. |You are very cruel, Princesse!| he said, |Surely unnecessarily bitterly cruel!|

|Cher philosophe, I have loved!| she replied, |And that is why I am cruel. I have loved and have been deceived in love, -- and that kind of thing often turns the most patient Griselda into an exceptionally fierce tiger-cat! I am not quite a tiger-cat, -- but I confess I do not like one-sidedness in anything, Nature's tendency being to equalise -- equalise -- till we are all flattened down into one level, -- the grave! At the present moment we are treading on a mixture of kings and saints and heroes, -- all one soil you see, and rather marshy, -- badly in need of draining at all times!| She laughed a little. |Frankly, I assure you, it is to me the most deplorable arrangement that a true woman should be destined to give all the passion and love of her life to one man, while the same man scatters his worthless affections about like halfpence among dozens of drabs! My dear Mr. Leigh, do not frown at me in that tragic way! I am not blaming YOU! I am not in the least inclined to put you in the general category, -- at least not at present. You do not look like the ordinary man, though you may be for all that! Expression is very deceptive!| She laughed again, then added, |Think of our sweet Angela, for instance! Unless a merciful Providence intervenes, she will marry Florian Varillo, -- and no doubt he will make her invite Mademoiselle Pon-Pon to her house to dine and sleep!|

|She loves him!| said Aubrey simply.

|Yes, she loves him, because she deludes herself with the idea that he is worthy of love. But if she were to find him out her whole soul would indignantly repulse him. If she knew all I know of him, she would rather embrace the mildewy skeleton of San Carlo Borromeo, with the great jewels glistening in his ghastly eye-sockets, than the well-fed, fresh coloured Florian Varillo!|

|If you fear for her happiness, why not warn her?| asked Aubrey.

|Warn her against the one creature she loves in the world?| said the Princesse, |Thanks very much! I would rather not. She would never speak to me again, and I should lose every chance of comforting or helping her when affliction comes -- as of course it is bound to come! Each individual man or woman makes his or her own life, -- we poor 'friends' can only stand and look on, waiting till they get into the muddle that we have always foreseen, and then doing our best to drag them out of it; but God Himself I think, could not save them from falling into the muddle in the first place. As for Sylvie, I have advised her to leave Rome and go back to Budapest at once.|

Aubrey started.

|Why?|

|Why? Can you ask? Because she is misjudged here on account of Fontenelle's death, and calumniated and wronged; because the women hate her for her beauty and wealth, and the men hate her too because she will not flatter them by accepting their ridiculous attentions. She will be much happier in her own home, -- such a grand old castle it is! -- a cluster of towers and broad battlements, with purple mountains in the background, and tall pine-trees everywhere . . .|

|It must be lonely for her!| said Aubrey quickly, |She is so mignonne -- so caressable -- so made for love and care and tenderness -- | Here he broke off, vexed with himself for having said so much, -- and his face flushed warmly. The Princesse stopped in her walk and looked at him straightly.

|Mr. Leigh,| she said, |I think -- I hope you are an honest man! And do you know the best advice I can give you?|

He answered no word, but his eyes questioned her meaning.

|Remain honest!| she said, smiling an answer to his look, |Be true to your own instincts and highest impulses. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by opinion or rumour; stand clear of both, -- and treat even a woman as you would treat a man! -- squarely -- candidly -- faithfully!|

She moved on and rejoined her companions, and Aubrey followed. The Comtesse Hermenstein's carriage was waiting for her, and the Comtesse herself was just entering it with Angela Sovrani as he came up.

|Good-bye, Mr. Leigh,| she said gently, extending her hand, |I may not see you again perhaps. I am going home to Buda this week.|

|Must you go?| he asked, looking earnestly into the lovely eyes, lovelier than ever in their present sorrowful languor.

|I think so,| she answered, |I may wait to see Angela's great picture, but -- |

|Do not hurry your departure,| said Aubrey, speaking in a softer tone -- |Tell me -- may I come and see you this evening, -- just for a few moments?|

His eyes rested on her tenderly, and at the passion of his glance her own fell.

|If you like -- yes,| she murmured. And just then the Princesse D'Agramont approached.

|May I drive you home, Mr. Leigh?| she asked.

|Thank you!| And Aubrey smiled as he accepted the invitation.

And presently the carriages started, Sylvie's light victoria leading, and the Princesse D'Agramont's landeau following. Half way back to Rome a picturesque little beggar, whose motley-coloured rags scarcely clothed his smooth brown limbs, suddenly sprang out of a corner where he had been in hiding with a great basket of violets, and threw the whole fragrant heap dexterously into Sylvie's carriage, crying out,

|Bellissima Signora! Bellissima! Bellissima! Un soldo! Un soldo!|

Laughingly Sylvie threw out four or five francs, but Aubrey, carried beyond all prudence by catching a glimpse of Sylvie's pretty head gleaming above the great purple cluster of violets she had caught and held, tossed a twenty-franc piece to the clever little rascal who had by |suiting the action to the word, and the word to the action| as Italians so often do, gained a week's earnings in one successful morning.

And the evening came, misty but mild, with the moon peering doubtfully through a fleecy veil of fine floating vapour, which, gathering flashes of luminance from the silver orb, turned to the witch-lights of an opal, -- and Aubrey made his way to the Casa D'Angeli, which in his own mind he called the |Palais D'lffry,| in memory of the old Breton song Sylvie had sung. On giving his name he was at once shown up into the great salon, now made beautiful by the picturesque and precious things accumulated there, and arranged with the individuality and taste of the presiding spirit. She was quite alone, seated in a deep easy chair near the fire, -- and her dress, of some faint shell-pink hue, clung about her in trailing soft folds which fell in a glistening heap of crushed rose-tints at her feet, making a soft rest for her tiny dog who was luxuriously curled therein. The firelight shed a warm glow around her, -- flickering brightly on her fair hair, on her white arms, and small hands where one or two diamonds flashed like drops of dew, -- and Aubrey, as he entered, was conscious of an overpowering sense of weakness, poverty of soul, narrowness of mind, incompetency of attainment, -- for the tranquillity and sweet perfection of the picture his eyes rested upon -- a picture lovelier than even the Gretchen which tempted Goethe's Faust to Hell, -- made him doubtful of his own powers -- mistrustful of his own worth. In his life of self-renunciation among the poorer classes, he had grown accustomed to pity women, -- to look upon them more or less as frail, broken creatures needing help and support, -- sometimes to be loved, but far more often to be despised and neglected. But Sylvie, Comtesse Hermenstein, was not of these, -- he knew, or thought he knew that she needed nothing. Beauty was hers, wealth was hers, independence of position was hers; and if she had given a smile or nod of encouragement, lovers were hers to command. What was he that he should count himself at all valuable in her sight, even as the merest friend? These despondent thoughts were doubly embittered by the immense scorn he now entertained for himself that he should have been such a fool as to listen for a moment to the silly and malignant gossip circulated among the envious concerning a woman who was admittedly the superior of those who calumniated her. For clearest logic shows that wherever superiority exists, inferiority rises up in opposition, and the lower endeavours to drag the higher down. Such vague reflections, coursing rapidly through his, brain, gave him an air of embarrassment and awkwardness not by any means common to him, as he advanced, and Sylvie, half rising from her chair, greeted him in her turn with a little touch of shyness which sent a wave of soft colour over her face, and made her look ten times prettier than ever.

|I am glad to find you alone -- | he began.

|Yes? I am generally alone,| answered Sylvie with a little smile -- |except for Katrine -- she would be here to welcome you this evening, but she has a very bad neuralgic headache -- |

|I am very sorry,| murmured Aubrey, with hypocritical earnestness, all the while devoutly blessing Madame Bozier's timely indisposition. |She is a great sufferer from neuralgia, I believe?|

|Yes . . .| and Sylvie, to divert the cloud of embarrassment that seemed to be deepening rather than dispersing for them both, rang the bell with a pretty imperativeness that was rather startling to Aubrey's nerves.

|What is that for?| he enquired irrelevantly.

|Only for coffee!|

Their eyes met, -- the mutual glance was irresistible, and they both laughed. Sylvia's Arab page entered in response to her summons, a pretty dusky-skinned lad of some twelve years old, picturesquely arrayed in scarlet, and bearing a quaintly embossed gilt salver with coffee prepared in the Arabian fashion.

|Do you like coffee made in this way?| asked Sylvie, as she handed Aubrey his cup.

Aubrey's eyes were fixed on the small white hand that looked so dainty, curled over the trifle of Sevres china that was called a coffee-cup, -- and he answered vaguely,

|This way? Oh, yes -- of course -- any way!|

A faint smile lifted the rosy corners of Sylvie's mouth as she heard this incoherent reply -- and the Arab page rolled his dark eyes up at his fair mistress with a look of dog-like affectionate enquiry, as to whether perhaps some fault in his serving had caused that little playful enigmatical expression on the face which he, in common with many others of his sex, thought the fairest in the world. The coffee dispensed and the page gone, there followed a spell of silence. The fire burned cheerily in the deep chimney, and the great logs cracked and spluttered as much as to say, |If these two curious people can find nothing to talk about, we can!| And then, just as luck would have it, a burning ember suddenly detached itself from the rest and fell out blazing on the hearth -- Sylvie sprang up to push it back, and Aubrey to assist her, -- and then, strange to relate -- only the occult influences of attraction know how it happened -- the little difficulty of the burning ember brought those two other burning embers of humanity together -- for Aubrey, hardly conscious of what he did, caught Sylvie's swaying, graceful figure as she rose from bending over the fire, closely in his arms, with a passion which mounted like a wave to tempest height, and knew no further hesitation or obstacle.

|Sylvie! Sylvie! I love you! -- my darling! I love you! -- |

No answer came, for there was none needed. Her face was hidden on his breast -- but he felt rather than saw the soft white arms and dainty hands moving tremblingly upwards, till they closed round him in the dear embrace which meant for him from henceforth the faith and love and devotion of one true heart through all the sorrows and perplexities as well as the joys and triumphs of life. And when, with his heart beating, and all his pulses thrilling with the new ecstacy that possessed him, he whispered a word or two that caused the pretty golden head to raise itself timidly -- the beautiful dark blue eyes to grow darker with the tenderness that overflowed the soul behind them, and the sweet lips to meet his own in a kiss, as soft and fragrant as though a rose had touched them, it was small blame to him that for a moment he lost his self-possession, and drawing her closer in his arms, showered upon her not only kisses, but whispered words of all that tender endearment which is judged as |foolish| by those who have never had the privilege of being made the subject of such priceless and exquisite |fooling.| And when they were calmer, and began to think of the possibility of the worthy Bozier suddenly recovering from her neuralgia and coming to look after her pupil, -- or the undesired but likely entrance of a servant to attend to the lamps, or to put fresh wood on the fire, they turned each from the other, with reluctance and half laughing decorum, -- Sylvie resuming her seat by the fire, and Aubrey flinging himself with happy recklessness in a low fauteuil as near to her as could be permitted for a gentleman visitor, who might be considered as enthusiastically expounding literature or science to a fascinating hostess. And somehow, as they talked, their conversation did gradually drift from passionate personalities into graver themes affecting wider interests, and Aubrey, warming into eloquence, gave free vent to his thoughts and opinions, till noticing that Sylvie sat very silent, looking into the fire somewhat gravely, he checked himself abruptly, fancying that perhaps he was treading on what might be forbidden ground with her whose pleasure was now his law. As he came to this sudden pause, she turned her soft eyes towards him tenderly, with a smile.

|Well!| she said, in the pretty foreign accent which distinguished her almost perfect English, |And why do you stop speaking? You must not be afraid to trust me with your closest thoughts, -- because how can our love be perfect if you do not?|

|Sweetheart!| he answered, catching the white hand that was so temptingly near his own, |Our love IS perfect! -- and so far as I am concerned there shall never be a cloud on such a dazzling sky!|

She smiled.

|Ah, you talk romance just now!| she said, |But Aubrey, I want our love to be something more than romance -- I want it to be a grand and helpful reality! If I am not worthy to be the companion of your very soul, you will not, you cannot love me long. Now, no protestations!| For he had possessed himself of the dear little hand again, and was covering it with kisses -- |You see, it is very sweet just now to sit by the fire together, and look at each other, and feel how happy we are -- but life does not go on like that. And your life, my Aubrey, belongs to the world . . .|

|To you! -- to you!| said Aubrey passionately, |I give it to you! You know the song? -- I set my life in your hand Mar it or make it sweet, -- I set my life in your hand, I lay my heart at your feet!|

Sylvie rose impulsively, and leaning over his chair kissed his forehead.

|Yes, I know! And I know you mean what you say! I could not imagine you telling an untruth, -- not even in making love!| and she laughed, |Though there are many of your sex who think any amount of lies permissible under similar circumstances! And it is just because I have found men such practised liars, that I have the reputation of being heartless. Did you ever think me heartless?|

Aubrey hesitated a moment.

|Yes,| he admitted at last, frankly, |I did till I knew better. I was told -- |

|Stop! I know all you were told!| said Sylvie, drawing her slim figure up with a pretty dignity as she moved back to her place by the fire -- |You were told that I was the cause of the death of the Marquis Fontenelle. So I was, unhappily -- but not through my own fault. The actor Miraudin, -- known to be one of the most coarse- minded and brutal of men, -- slandered me in public, -- the Marquis defended me. Hence the combat and its fatal end, which no one has deplored more bitterly than I. Miraudin was never a gentleman, -- Fontenelle could have been one had he chosen. And I confess I cared very much for him at one time!|

|You loved him,| said Aubrey, trying to master a pang of jealousy.

|Yes! I loved him! -- till he proved himself unworthy of love.|

There was a silence.

|I tell you all this,| said Sylvie then slowly and emphatically, |that you may know me at once as I am. I wish to hide nothing from you. I have read all your books -- I know your views of life -- your hatred of dissimulation -- your contempt of a lie! In your love for me, you must have complete knowledge of my nature, and confidence in my truth. I would never give my life to any man unless he trusted me absolutely, -- unless I was sure he felt I was a real helpmate for him. I love you -- but I also love your work and your aims; and I go with all your thoughts and wish to share all your responsibilities. But I must feel that you will never misjudge me, -- never set me down on the level of mean and small-natured women, who cannot sacrifice themselves or their personal vanities for another's sake. It is not for me to say that the calumnies circulated concerning me are untrue, -- it is for my life to show and PROVE they are not! But I must be trusted -- not suspected; and if you give me your life as you say, I will give mine to help make yours happier, asking from you in return just your faith -- your FAITH as well as your love!|

Like a fair queen she stood, royal in her look, bearing and attitude, and Aubrey bent his head low in reverence before her as he once more kissed her hand.

|My wife!| he said simply.

And the silence that followed was as that of God's benediction on that perfect marriage which is scarcely ever consummated in all the world, -- the marriage of two souls, which like twin flames, unite and burn upward clear to Heaven, as One.

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