“Father!” implored the unhappy girl, clasping his knees in an agony of supplication, though she raised not her head—“Oh my father! in mercy do not speak thus! Words of wrath, of reproach, fearful as they are from thee, yet I can bear them, but not such woe! Oh, think what I have borne, what I must still bear. If I have sinned, my sin will bring, nay, it has already brought its own chastisement. Speak to me but one word of love—or, if it must be, wrath.—but not, not such accents of despair!”
Her father struggled to reply; but the conflux of strong emotion was too powerful, and Marie sprung up to support him as he fell. She had often seen him insensible before, when there appeared no cause for such attacks; but was it strange that at such a moment she should feel that she had caused it?—that her sin perchance had killed her father; he might never wake more to say he forgave, he blessed her,—or that in those agonized moments of suspense she vowed, if he might but speak again, that his will should be hers, even did it demand the annihilation of every former treasured thought! And the vow seemed heard. Gradually and, it appeared, painfully life returned. His first action was to clasp her convulsively to his heart; his next, to put her gently yet firmly from him, and bury his face in his hands, and weep.
No sight is more terrible, even to an indifferent spectator, than to behold tears wrung from the eyes of man—and to his child it was indeed torture. But she controlled the choking anguish—calmly and firmly she spoke, and gradually the paroxysm subsided.
“That I have sinned in loving a stranger thus, I have long felt,” she said; “and had I been aware of the nature of these feelings, they should never have gained ascendency. But I awoke too late—my very being was enchained. Still I may break from these engrossing thoughts—I would do so—pain shall be welcome, if it may in time atone for the involuntary sin of loving the stranger, and the yet more terrible one of grieving thee. Oh, my father, do what thou wilt, command me as thou wilt—I am henceforth wholly thine.”
“And thou wilt wed Ferdinand, my child?”
“Would he still wish it, father, if he knew the whole? And is it right, is it just, to wed him, and the truth still unrevealed? Oh, if he do love me, as you say, how can I requite him by deceit?”
“Tell him not, tell him not,” replied Henriquez, again fearfully agitated; “let none other know what has been. What can it do, save to grieve him beyond thy power to repair? No, no. Once his, and all these fearful thoughts will pass away, and their sin be blotted out, in thy true faithfulness to one who loves thee. His wife, and I know that thou wilt love him, and be true, as if thou hadst never loved another—”
“Ay, could I not be true, I would not wed,” murmured Marie, more to herself than to her father; “and if suffering indeed, atone for sin, terribly will it be redeemed. But oh, my father, tell me—I have sworn to be guided by thee, and in all things I will be—tell me, in wedding him whom thou hast chosen, do I not still do foul wrong, if not to him (her voice faltered), unto another, whose love is mine as well?”