“Come hither, boy,” said Ferdinand kindly; and the novice slowly and with evident reluctance obeyed. “We could almost wish thy tastes had pointed elsewhere than the church, that our acknowledgments of thy exertions in our service might be more substantial than mere thanks; however, thy patron saint shall not want a grateful offering. Nay, our presence is surely not so terrible that thou shouldst tremble thus, poor child! Hast thou aught more to communicate?—aught for our private ear, or that of her Highness our consort? If not, we will not exhaust thy little strength by useless questions.”
In a tone so low and faltering, that Ferdinand was obliged to bend down his head to hear, the novice replied, that if messengers had been despatched to the village, his errand was sufficiently accomplished. Father Ambrose had merely charged him to say that the real murderer had himself confessed his crime, and that the sin had been incited, by such a horrible train of secret guilt, that all particulars were deferred till they could be imparted to the authorities of justice, and by them to the sovereigns themselves. For himself he only asked permission to return to the village with Perez, and rejoin his guardian, Father Ambrose, as soon as his Grace would please to dismiss him.
“Thou must not—shalt not—return without my poor thanks, my young preserver,” exclaimed Stanley, with emotion. “Had it not been for exertions which have well nigh exhausted thee, exertions as gratuitous as noble—for what am I to thee?—my honor might have been saved indeed, but my life would have paid a felon’s forfeit. Would that I could serve thee—thou shouldst not find me ungrateful! Give me thine hand, at least, as pledge that shouldst thou ever need me—if not for thyself, for others—thou wilt seek me without scruple.”
The boy laid his hand on Stanley’s without hesitation, but without speaking; he merely raised his heavy eyes a moment to his face, and vainly did Stanley endeavor to account for the thrill which shot through his heart so suddenly as almost to take away his breath, as he felt the soft touch of that little hand and met that momentary glance.
Who has not felt the extraordinary power of a tone—a look—a touch? which,
“Touching th’ electric chain, wherewith we are darkly bound,”
fills the heart and mind with irresistible impulses, engrossing thoughts, and startling memories, all defined and united, and yet lasting for so brief a moment that we are scarcely able to realize their existence ere they are gone—and so completely, that we perplex ourselves again and again with the vain effort to recall their subject or their meaning. And so it was with Stanley. The thrill passed and he could not even trace its origin or flitting thought; he only saw a Benedictine novice before him; he only felt regret that there was no apparent means with which he could evince his gratitude.
On Father Francis offering to take charge of the boy, till his strength was sufficiently renovated to permit his safe return to the village, Isabella spoke, for the first time:—