She saw his tears; her fortitude began to fail at the sight, when the voice of some stranger on the stairs awakened her attention. She listened for a moment, then starting up, exclaimed, “Merciful God! my father’s voice!”
She had scarce uttered the word, when the door burst open, and a man entered in the garb of an officer. When he discovered his daughter and Harley, he started back a few paces; his look assumed a furious wildness! he laid his hand on his sword. The two objects of his wrath did not utter a syllable.
“Villain,” he cried, “thou seest a father who had once a daughter’s honour to preserve; blasted as it now is, behold him ready to avenge its loss!”
Harley had by this time some power of utterance. “Sir,” said he, “if you will be a moment calm—”
“Infamous coward!” interrupted the other, “dost thou preach calmness to wrongs like mine!”
He drew his sword.
“Sir,” said Harley, “let me tell you”—the blood ran quicker to his cheek, his pulse beat one, no more, and regained the temperament of humanity—“you are deceived, sir,” said he, “you are much deceived; but I forgive suspicions which your misfortunes have justified: I would not wrong you, upon my soul I would not, for the dearest gratification of a thousand worlds; my heart bleeds for you!”
His daughter was now prostrate at his feet.
“Strike,” said she, “strike here a wretch, whose misery cannot end but with that death she deserves.”
Her hair had fallen on her shoulders! her look had the horrid calmness of out-breathed despair! Her father would have spoken; his lip quivered, his cheek grew pale, his eyes lost the lightning of their fury! there was a reproach in them, but with a mingling of pity. He turned them up to heaven, then on his daughter. He laid his left hand on his heart, the sword dropped from his right, he burst into tears.
CHAPTER XXIX—THE DISTRESSES OF A FATHER
Harley kneeled also at the side of the unfortunate daughter.
“Allow me, sir,” said he, “to entreat your pardon for one whose offences have been already so signally punished. I know, I feel, that those tears, wrung from the heart of a father, are more dreadful to her than all the punishments your sword could have inflicted: accept the contrition of a child whom heaven has restored to you.”
“Is she not lost,” answered he, “irrecoverably lost? Damnation! a common prostitute to the meanest ruffian!”
“Calmly, my dear sir,” said Harley, “did you know by what complicated misfortunes she had fallen to that miserable state in which you now behold her, I should have no need of words to excite your compassion. Think, sir, of what once she was. Would you abandon her to the insults of an unfeeling world, deny her opportunity of penitence, and cut off the little comfort that still remains for your afflictions and her own!”