Captain Blessington now quitted the room, and Sir Everard, relieved from the restraining presence of his companions, gave free vent to his emotion, throwing himself upon the body of his friend, and giving utterance to the feelings of anguish that oppressed his heart.
He had continued some minutes in this position, when he fancied he felt the warm tears of a human being bedewing a hand that reposed on the neck of his unfortunate friend. He looked up, and, to his infinite surprise, beheld Clara de Haldimar standing before him at the opposite side of the bed. Her likeness to her brother, at that moment, was so striking, that, for a second or two, the irrepressible thought passed through the mind of the officer, it was not a living being he gazed upon, but the immaterial spirit of his friend. The whole attitude and appearance of the wretched girl, independently of the fact of her noiseless entrance, tended to favour the delusion. Her features, of an ashy paleness, seemed fixed, even as those of the corpse beneath him; and, but for the tears that coursed silently down her cheek, there was scarcely an outward evidence of emotion. Her dress was a simple white robe, fastened round her waist with a pale blue riband; and over her shoulders hung her redundant hair, resembling in colour, and disposed much in the manner of that of her brother, which had been drawn negligently down to conceal the wound on his brow. For some moments the baronet gazed at her in speechless agony. Her tranquil exterior was torture to him; for he, feared it betokened some alienation of reason. He would have preferred to witness the most hysteric convulsion of grief, rather than that traitorous calm; and yet he had not the power to seek to remove it.
“You are surprised to see me here, mingling my grief with yours, Sir Everard,” she at length observed, with the same calm mien, and in tones of touching sweetness. “I came, with my father’s permission, to take a last farewell of him whose death has broken my heart. I expected to be alone; but—Nay, do not go,” she added, perceiving that the officer was about to depart. “Had you not been here, I should have sent for you; for we have both a sacred duty to perform. May I not ask your hand?”
More and more dismayed at her collected manner, the young officer gazed at her with the deepest sorrow depicted in every line of his own countenance. He extended his hand, and Clara, to his surprise, grasped and pressed it firmly.
“It was the wish of this poor boy that his Clara should be the wife of his friend, Sir Everard. Did he ever express such to you?”
“It was the fondest desire of his heart,” returned the baronet, unable to restrain the emotion of joy that mingled, despite of himself, with his worst apprehensions.
“I need not ask how you received his proposal,” continued Clara, with the same calmness of manner. “Last night,” she pursued solemnly, “I was the bride of the murderer of my brother, of the lover of my mother,—tomorrow night I may be the bride of death; but to-night I am the bride of my brother’s friend. Yes, here am I come to pledge myself to the fulfilment of his wish. If you deem a heart-broken girl not unworthy of you, I am your wife, Sir Everard; and, recollect, it is a solemn pledge, that which a sister gives over the lifeless body of a brother, beloved as this has been.”