“To the castle!” repeated Marie internally. “Ay, he will do his duty, though his heart be breaking. He will take his place and act his part, and men will report him calm, wise, collected, active as his wont, and little dream his wife, his treasured wife, has bowed his lofty spirit to the dust, and laid low his light of home. Tell me when he returns,” she said aloud, “and bid all leave me but yourself.”
Two hours passed, and Marie lay outwardly still and calm, neither speaking nor employed. But at the end of that time she started up hastily, resumed the robe which had been cast aside, and remained standing, as intently listening to some distant sound. Several minutes elapsed, and though she had sunk almost unconsciously on the seat Manuella proffered, it was not till full half an hour that she spoke.
“The Senor has returned,” she said calmly; “bid Alberic hither.”
The page came, and she quietly inquired if any strangers had entered with his master.
“No, Senora, he is alone.”
“Has he long returned?”
“Almost half an hour, Senora. He went directly to his closet, desiring that he might not be disturbed.”
Ten minutes more, and Marie was standing in her husband’s presence, but unobserved. For the first time in his whole life had her light step approached him unheard. For two hours he had borne a degree of mental suffering which would either have crushed or roused any other man into wildest fury—borne it with such an unflinching spirit, that in neither look nor manner, nor even tone, had he departed from his usual self, or given the slightest occasion for remark. But the privacy of his closet obtained, the mighty will gave way, and the stormy waves rolled over him, deadening every sense and thought and feeling, save the one absorbing truth, that he had never been beloved. Father and child had deceived him; for now every little word, every trifling occurrence before his marriage in the Vale of Cedars rushed back on his mind, and Henriquez imploring entreaty under all circumstances to love and cherish her was explained.
“Ferdinand!” exclaimed a voice almost inarticulate from sobs; and starting, he beheld his wife kneeling by his side. “Oh! my husband, do not turn from me, do not hate me. I have none but thee.”
He tried to withdraw his hand, but the words, the tone, unmanned him, and throwing his arm round her, he clasped her convulsively to his heart, and she felt his slow scalding tears fall one by one, as wrung from the heart’s innermost depths, upon her cheek.
For several minutes there was silence. The strong man’s emotion is as terrible to witness as terrible to feel. Marie was the first to regain voice; and in low beseeching accents she implored him to listen to her—to hear ere he condemned.
“Not thus,” was his sole reply, as he tried to raise her from her kneeling posture to the cushion by his side.