The words were few and simple; but the tone in which they were spoken recalled Arthur’s better nature, and banished hope at once. A pause ensued, broken only by the young man’s hurried tread, as he traversed the little platform in the vain struggle for calmness. On him this blow had fallen wholly unprepared; Marie had faced it from the moment they had parted fifteen months before, and her only prayer had been (a fearful one for a young and loving heart), that Stanley would forget her, and they might never meet again. But this was not to be; and though she had believed herself prepared, one look on his face, one sound of his voice had proved how vain had been her dream.
“I will obey thee, Marie,” Stanley said, at length, pausing before her. “I will leave thee now, but not—not for ever. No, no; if indeed thou lovest me time will not change thee, if thou hast one sacred tie, when nature severs that, and thou art alone on earth, thou shalt be mine, whatever be thy race.”
“Hope it not, ask it not! Oh, Arthur, better thou shouldst hate me, as thy people do my race: I cannot bear such gentle words,” faltered poor Marie, as her head sunk for a minute on his bosom, and the pent-up tears burst forth. “But this is folly,” she continued, forcing back the choking sob, and breaking from his passionate embrace. “There is danger alike for my father and thee, if thou tarriest longer. Not that way,” she added, as his eye glanced inquiringly towards the hill by which he had descended; “there is another and an easier path; follow me—thou wilt not betray it?”
“Never!” was the solemn rejoinder, and not a word more passed between them. He followed her through what seemed to be an endless maze, and paused before a towering rock, which, smooth and perpendicular as a wall built by man, ran round the vale and seemed to reach to heaven. Pushing aside the thick brushwood, Marie stood beside the rock, and by some invisible movement, a low door flew open and disclosed a winding staircase.
“Thou wilt trust me, Arthur?”
“Ay, unto death,” he answered, springing after her up the rugged stair. Narrow loopholes, almost concealed without by trees and brushwood, dimly lighted the staircase, as also a low, narrow passage, which branched off in zig-zag windings at the top, and terminated, as their woody path had done, in a solid wall. But again an invisible door flew open, closing behind them; and after walking about a hundred yards through prickly shrubs and entangled brushwood that obscured his sight, Marie paused, and Arthur gazed round bewildered. A seemingly boundless plain stretched for miles around him, its green level only diversified by rocks scattered about in huge masses and wild confusion, as if hurled in fury from some giant’s hand. The rock whence he had issued was completely invisible. He looked around again and again, but only to bewilder himself yet more.
“The way looks more dreary than it is. Keep to the left: though it seems the less trodden path thou wilt find there a shelter for the night, and to-morrow’s sun will soon guide thee to a frontier town; thy road will be easy then. Night is falling so fast now, thou hadst best not linger, Arthur.”