Ere he could collect himself sufficiently to speak, Colonel Talbot had recovered his usual composure of manner, though his troubled eye denoted his mental agony.
’She is a woman, my young friend, who may justify even a soldier’s tears.’ He reached him the miniature, exhibiting features which fully justified the eulogium; ’and yet, God knows, what you see of her there is the least of the charms she possesses—possessed, I should perhaps say—but God’s will be done.’
’ You must fly—you must fly instantly to her relief. It is not— it shall not be too late.’
‘Fly? how is it possible? I am a prisoner, upon parole.’
‘I am your keeper; I restore your parole; I am to answer for you.’
’You cannot do so consistently with your duty; nor can I accept a discharge from you, with due regard to my own honour; you would be made responsible.’
‘I will answer it with my head, if necessary,’ said Waverley impetuously. ’I have been the unhappy cause of the loss of your child, make me not the murderer of your wife.’
‘No, my dear Edward,’ said Talbot, taking him kindly by the hand, ’you are in no respect to blame; and if I concealed this domestic distress for two days, it was lest your sensibility should view it in that light. You could not think of me, hardly knew of my existence, when I left England in quest of you. It is a responsibility, Heaven knows, sufficiently heavy for mortality, that we must answer for the foreseen and direct result of our actions; for their indirect and consequential operation the great and good Being, who alone can foresee the dependence of human events on each other, hath not pronounced his frail creatures liable.’
‘But that you should have left Lady Emily,’ said Waverley, with much emotion, ’in the situation of all others the most interesting to a husband, to seek a—’
‘I only did my duty,’ answered Colonel Talbot, calmly, ’and I do not, ought not, to regret it. If the path of gratitude and honour were always smooth and easy, there would be little merit in following it; but it moves often in contradiction to our interest and passions, and sometimes to our better affections. These are the trials of life, and this, though not the least bitter’ (the tears came unbidden to his eyes), ’is not the first which it has been my fate to encounter. But we will talk of this to-morrow,’ he said, wringing Waverley’s hands. ’Good-night; strive to forget it for a few hours. It will dawn, I think, by six, and it is now past two. Good-night.’
Edward retired, without trusting his voice with a reply.
When Colonel Talbot entered the breakfast-parlour next morning, he learned from Waverley’s servant that our hero had been abroad at an early hour and was not yet returned. The morning was well advanced before he again appeared. He arrived out of breath, but with an air of joy that astonished Colonel Talbot.