The private residence of the officer was situated in a remote part of the town, and skirting that point of the circular ridge of hills where the lights in the habitation of Matilda had attracted the notice of Gerald, on the first night of his encounter. To one who viewed it from a distance, it would have seemed that the summit of the wood-crowned ridge must be crossed before communication could he held between the two dwellings which lay as it were back to back, on either side of the formidable barrier; but on a nearer approach, a fissure in the hill might be observed, just wide enough to admit of a narrow horse track or foot path, which wound its sinuous course from the little valley into the open space that verged upon the town, on gaining which the residence of the American officer was to be seen rising at the distance of twenty yards. It was in this path, which had been latterly pointed out to him by his guilty companion, that Gerald was to await the approach of the intended victim, who on passing his place of concealment, was to be cautiously followed and stabbed to the heart ere he could gain his door.
Fallen as was Gerald from his high estate of honor, it was not without a deep sense of the atrocity of the act he was about to commit that he prepared for its accomplishment. It is true that, yielding to the sophistry of Matilda’s arguments, he was sometimes led to imagine the avenging of her injuries an imperative duty; but such was his view of the subject only when the spell of her presence was upon him. When restored to his calmer and more unbiassed judgment, in the solitude of his own chamber, conscience resumed her sway, and no plausibility of pretence could conceal from himself that he was about to become that vilest of beings—a common murderer. There were moments even when the dread deed to which he had pledged himself appeared in such hideous deformity that he fain would have fled on the instant far from the influence of her who had incited him to its perpetration, but when the form of Matilda rose to his mental eye, remorse, conscience, every latent principle of virtue, dissolved away, and although he no longer sought to conceal from himself that what he meditated was crime of the blackest dye, his determination to secure entire possession of that beauty, even at the accursed price of blood, became but the more resolute and confirmed.
The night previous to that fixed for the assassination was passed by the guilty Gerald in a state of dreadful excitement. Large drops fell from his forehead in agony, and when he arose at a late hour, his pale emaciated features and wavering step betrayed how little the mind or the body had tasted of repose. Accustomed however, as he had latterly been, to sustain his sinking spirits by artificial means, he was not long in having recourse to his wonted stimulants. He called for brandy to deaden the acuteness of his feelings, and give strength to his tottering limbs; and when he had drank freely of this, he sallied forth