When she felt him take the whip, the poor lady’s heart gave a great heave of hope; then her flesh quivered with fear. She closed her teeth hard, to welcome the blow without a cry. Would he give her many stripes? Then the last should be welcome as the first. Would it spoil her skin? What matter if it was his own hand that did it!
A brief delay—long to her! then the hiss, as it seemed, of the coming blow! But instead of the pang she awaited, the sharp ring of breaking glass followed: he had thrown the whip through the window into the garden. The same moment he dragged his feet rudely from her embrace, and left the room. The devil and the gentleman had conquered. He had spared her, not in love, but in scorn. She gave one great cry of utter loss, and lay senseless.
THE BOTTOMLESS POOL.
She came to herself in the gray dawn. She was cold as ice—cold to the very heart, but she did not feel the cold: there was nothing in her to compare it against; her very being was frozen. The man who had given her life had thrown her from him. He cared less for her than for the tortured dog. She was an outcast, defiled and miserable. Alas! alas! this was what came of speaking the truth—of making confession! The cruel scripture had wrought its own fulfillment, made a mock of her, and ruined her husband’s peace. She knew poor Paul would never be himself again! She had carried the snake so long harmless in her bosom only to let it at last creep from her lips into her husband’s ear, sting the vital core of her universe, and blast it forever! How foolish she had been!—What was left her to do? What would her husband have her to do? Oh misery! he cared no more what she did or did not do. She was alone—utterly alone! But she need not live.
Dimly, vaguely, the vapor of such thoughts as these passed through her despairing soul, as she lifted herself from the floor and tottered back to her room. Yet even then, in the very midst of her freezing misery, there was, although she had not yet begun to recognize it, a nascent comfort in that she had spoken and confessed. She would not really have taken back her confession. And although the torture was greater, yet was it more endurable than that she had been suffering before. She had told him who had a right to know.—But, alas! what a deception was that dream of the trumpet and the voice! A poor trick to entrap a helpless sinner!