A pause of labored hard breathing. Mr. Carlyle did not interrupt it.
“All wrong, all wrong,” she resumed; “this interview with you, among the rest. And yet—I hardly know; it cannot hurt the new ties you have formed, for I am as one dead now to this world, hovering on the brink of the next. But you were my husband, Archibald; and, the last few days, I have longed for your forgiveness with a fevered longing. Oh! that the past could be blotted out! That I could wake up and find it but a hideous dream; that I were here as in old days, in health and happiness, your ever loving wife. Do you wish it, that the dark past had never had place?”
She put the question in a sharp, eager tone, gazing up to him with an anxious gaze, as though the answer must be one of life or death.
“For your sake I wish it.” Calm enough were the words spoken; and her eyes fell again, and a deep sigh came forth.
“I am going to William. But Lucy and Archibald will be left. Oh, do you never be unkind to them! I pray you, visit not their mother’s sin upon their heads! Do not in your love for your later children, lose your love for them!”
“Have you seen anything in my conduct that could give rise to fears of this?” he returned, reproach mingled in his sad tone. “The children are dear to me, as you once were.”
“As I once was. Aye, and as I might have been now.”
“Indeed you might,” he answered, with emotion. “The fault was not mine.”
“Archibald, I am on the very threshold of the next world. Will you not bless me—will you not say a word of love to me before I pass it! Let what I am, I say, be blotted for the moment from your memory; think of me, if you can, as the innocent, timid child whom you made your wife. Only a word of love. My heart is breaking for it.”
He leaned over her, he pushed aside the hair from her brow with his gentle hand, his tears dropping on her face. “You nearly broke mine, when you left me, Isabel,” he whispered.
“May God bless you, and take you to His rest in Heaven! May He so deal with me, as I now fully and freely forgive you.”
What was he about to do? Lower and lower bent his head, until his breath nearly mingled with hers. To kiss her? He best knew. But, suddenly, his face grew red with a scarlet flush, and he lifted it again. Did the form of one, then in a felon’s cell at Lynneborough, thrust itself before him, or that of his absent and unconscious wife?
“To His rest in Heaven,” she murmured, in the hollow tones of the departing. “Yes, yes I know that God had forgiven me. Oh, what a struggle it has been! Nothing but bad feelings, rebellion, and sorrow, and repining, for a long while after I came back here, but Jesus prayed for me, and helped me, and you know how merciful He is to the weary and heavy-laden. We shall meet again, Archibald, and live together forever and ever. But for that great hope I could hardly die. William said mamma would be on the banks of the river, looking out for him; but it is William who is looking for me.”