At midnight, in the great, dim magnificence of the state chamber where he lay, and with the low, soft chanting of the chapel choir from afar echoing through the incensed air, she bent her haughty head down over his couch, and the marriage benediction was spoken over them.
His voice was faint and broken, but it had the thrill of a passionate triumph in it. When the last words were uttered, he lay a while, exhausted, silent; only looking ever upward at her with his dark, dreamy eyes, in which the old love glanced so strangely through the blindness of pain. Then he smiled as the last echo of the choral melodies died softly on the silence.
“That is joy enough! Ah! have no fear. With the dawn you will be free once more. Did you think that I could have taken your sacrifice? I knew well, let them say as they would, that I should not live the night through. But, lest existence should linger to curse me, to chain you, I rent the linen bands off my wounds an hour ago. All their science will not put back the life now! My limbs are dead, and the cold steals up! Ah, love! Ah, love! You never thought how men can suffer! But have no grief for me. I am happy. Bend your head down, and lay your lips on mine once. You are my own!—death is sweeter than life!”
And before sunrise he died.
Some shadow from that fatal and tragic midnight marriage rested on her still. Though she was blameless, some vague remorse ever haunted her; though she had been so wholly guiltless of it, this death for her sake ever seemed in some sort of her bringing. Men thought her only colder, only prouder; but they erred. She was one of those women who, beneath the courtly negligence of a chill manner, are capable of infinite tenderness, infinite nobility, and infinite self-reproach.
A great French painter once, in Rome, looking on her from a distance, shaded his eyes with his hand, as if her beauty, like the sun dazzled him. “Exquisite—superb!” he muttered; and he was a man whose own ideals were so matchless that living women rarely could wring out his praise. “She is nearly perfect, your Princesse Corona!”
“Nearly!” cried a Roman sculptor. “What, in Heaven’s name, can she want?”
“Only one thing!”
“And that is——”
“To have loved.”
Wherewith he turned into the Greco.
He had found the one flaw—and it was still there. What he missed in her was still wanting.