The only light admitted into the temple was through the window already described, and this was so feeble as scarcely to allow of the more distant objects in the room being seen. Gradually, as the moon sunk beneath the forest ridge, the gloom increased, until in the end the darkness became almost profound. At their first entrance Matilda, enshrouding herself in the folds of her cloak, had thrown herself upon the sofa; while Gerald continued to pace up and down the apartment with hurried steps, and in a state of feeling it would be a vain attempt to describe. It was now for the first time that, uninfluenced by passion, the miserable young man had leisure to reflect on the past, and the chain of fatality which had led to his present disgraceful position. He recollected the conversation he had held with his brother on the day succeeding his escape from the storm; and as the pledge which had been given in his name to his dying father, that no action of his life should reflect dishonor on his family now occurred to him in all its force, he groaned in agony of spirit, less in apprehension of the fate that awaited him than in sorrow and in shame that that pledge should have been violated. By a natural transition of his feelings, his imagination recurred to the traditions connected with his family, and the dreadful curse which had been uttered by one on whom his ancestor was said to have heaped injury to the very extinction of reason—and associating as he did Matilda’s visit to the Cottage at Detroit, on the memorable night when he had unconsciously saved the life of Colonel Forrester, with the fact of her having previously knelt and prayed upon the grave that was known to cover the ashes of the unhappy maniac, Ellen Halloway, he felt a shuddering conviction that she was in some way connected with that wretched woman. In the intenseness of his new desire to satisfy his doubts—a desire which in itself partook of the character of the fatality by which he was beset—he overcame the repugnance he had hitherto felt to enter into conversation with her, and advancing to the couch, seated himself upon its edge at her side.
“Matilda” he said, after a few moments of silence, “by all the love you once bore me, I conjure you answer me one question while yet there is time.”
“Fool,” returned the American, “I never loved you. A soul like mine feels passion but once. Hitherto I have played a part, hut the drama approaches to a close, and disguise of plot is no longer necessary. Gerald Grantham, you have been my dupe,—you came a convenient puppet to my hands, and as such I used you until the snapped wire proclaimed you no longer serviceable. No further.”
Shame, anguish, mortification—all the most humiliating sensations natural to man, for a moment assailed the breast of the unfortunate and guilty Grantham, rendering him insensible even to the greater evil which awaited him. In the bitterness of his agony he struck his clenched hand against his forehead, uttering curses upon himself for his weakness, in one breath, and calling upon his God, in the next, to pardon him for his crime.