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Chapter 5

Nearly a year had past since my father's return, and the seasons had
almost finished their round--It was now the end of May; the woods were
clothed in their freshest verdure, and the sweet smell of the new mown
grass was in the fields. I thought that the balmy air and the lovely
face of Nature might aid me in inspiring him with mild sensations, and
give him gentle feelings of peace and love preparatory to the
confidence I determined to win from him.

I chose therefore the evening of one of these days for my attempt. I
invited him to walk with me, and led him to a neighbouring wood of
beech trees whose light shade shielded us from the slant and dazzling
beams of the descending sun--After walking for some time in silence I
seated my self with him on a mossy hillock--It is strange but even now
I seem to see the spot--the slim and smooth trunks were many of them
wound round by ivy whose shining leaves of the darkest green
contrasted with the white bark and the light leaves of the young
sprouts of beech that grew from their parent trunks--the short grass
was mingled with moss and was partly covered by the dead leaves of the
last autumn that driven by the winds had here and there collected in
little hillocks--there were a few moss grown stumps about--The leaves
were gently moved by the breeze and through their green canopy you
could see the bright blue sky--As evening came on the distant trunks
were reddened by the sun and the wind died entirely away while a few
birds flew past us to their evening rest.

Well it was here we sat together, and when you hear all that past--all
that of terrible tore our souls even in this placid spot, which but
for strange passions might have been a paradise to us, you will not
wonder that I remember it as I looked on it that its calm might give
me calm, and inspire me not only with courage but with persuasive
words. I saw all these things and in a vacant manner noted them in my
mind[31] while I endeavoured to arrange my thoughts in fitting order
for my attempt. My heart beat fast as I worked myself up to speak to
him, for I was determined not to be repulsed but I trembled to imagine
what effect my words might have on him; at length, with much
hesitation I began:[32]

"Your kindness to me, my dearest father, and the affection--the
excessive affection--that you had for me when you first returned will
I hope excuse me in your eyes that I dare speak to you, although with
the tender affection of a daughter, yet also with the freedom of a
friend and equal. But pardon me, I entreat you and listen to me: do
not turn away from me; do not be impatient; you may easily intimidate
me into silence, but my heart is bursting, nor can I willingly consent
to endure for one moment longer the agony of uncertitude which for the
last four months has been my portion.

"Listen to me, dearest friend, and permit me to gain your confidence.
Are the happy days of mutual love which have passed to be to me as a
dream never to return? Alas! You have a secret grief that destroys us
both: but you must permit me to win this secret from you. Tell me, can
I do nothing? You well know that on the whole earth there is no
sacrifise that I would not make, no labour that I would not undergo
with the mere hope that I might bring you ease. But if no endeavour on
my part can contribute to your happiness, let me at least know your
sorrow, and surely my earnest love and deep sympathy must soothe your
despair.

"I fear that I speak in a constrained manner: my heart is overflowing
with the ardent desire I have of bringing calm once more to your
thoughts and looks; but I fear to aggravate your grief, or to raise
that in you which is death to me, anger and distaste. Do not then
continue to fix your eyes on the earth; raise them on me for I can
read your soul in them: speak to me to me [_sic_], and pardon my
presumption. Alas! I am a most unhappy creature!"

I was breathless with emotion, and I paused fixing my earnest eyes on
my father, after I had dashed away the intrusive tears that dimmed
them. He did not raise his, but after a short silence he replied to me
in a low voice: "You are indeed presumptuous, Mathilda, presumptuous
and very rash. In the heart of one like me there are secret thoughts
working, and secret tortures which you ought not to seek to discover.
I cannot tell you how it adds to my grief to know that I am the cause
of uneasiness to you; but this will pass away, and I hope that soon we
shall be as we were a few months ago. Restrain your impatience or you
may mar what you attempt to alleviate. Do not again speak to me in
this strain; but wait in submissive patience the event of what is
passing around you."

"Oh, yes!" I passionately replied, "I will be very patient; I will
not be rash or presumptuous: I will see the agonies, and tears, and
despair of my father, my only friend, my hope, my shelter, I will see
it all with folded arms and downcast eyes. You do not treat me with
candour; it is not true what you say; this will not soon pass away, it
will last forever if you deign not to speak to me; to admit my
consolations.

"Dearest, dearest father, pity me and pardon me: I entreat you do not
drive me to despair; indeed I must not be repulsed; there is one thing
that which [_sic_] although it may torture me to know, yet that you
must tell me. I demand, and most solemnly I demand if in any way I am
the cause of your unhappiness. Do you not see my tears which I in vain
strive against--You hear unmoved my voice broken by sobs--Feel how my
hand trembles: my whole heart is in the words I speak and you must not
endeavour to silence me by mere words barren of meaning: the agony of
my doubt hurries me on, and you must reply. I beseech you; by your
former love for me now lost, I adjure you to answer that one question.
Am I the cause of your grief?"

He raised his eyes from the ground, but still turning them away from
me, said: "Besought by that plea I will answer your rash question.
Yes, you are the sole, the agonizing cause of all I suffer, of all I
must suffer untill I die. Now, beware! Be silent! Do not urge me to
your destruction. I am struck by the storm, rooted up, laid waste: but
you can stand against it; you are young and your passions are at
peace. One word I might speak and then you would be implicated in my
destruction; yet that word is hovering on my lips. Oh! There is a
fearful chasm; but I adjure you to beware!"

"Ah, dearest friend!" I cried, "do not fear! Speak that word; it will
bring peace, not death. If there is a chasm our mutual love will give
us wings to pass it, and we shall find flowers, and verdure, and
delight on the other side." I threw myself at his feet, and took his
hand, "Yes, speak, and we shall be happy; there will no longer be
doubt, no dreadful uncertainty; trust me, my affection will soothe
your sorrow; speak that word and all danger will be past, and we shall
love each other as before, and for ever."

He snatched his hand from me, and rose in violent disorder: "What do
you mean? You know not what you mean. Why do you bring me out, and
torture me, and tempt me, and kill me--Much happier would [it] be for
you and for me if in your frantic curiosity you tore my heart from my
breast and tried to read its secrets in it as its life's blood was
dropping from it. Thus you may console me by reducing me to
nothing--but your words I cannot bear; soon they will make me mad,
quite mad, and then I shall utter strange words, and you will believe
them, and we shall be both lost for ever. I tell you I am on the very
verge of insanity; why, cruel girl, do you drive me on: you will
repent and I shall die."

When I repeat his words I wonder at my pertinacious folly; I hardly
know what feelings resis[t]lessly impelled me. I believe it was that
coming out with a determination not to be repulsed I went right
forward to my object without well weighing his replies: I was led by
passion and drew him with frantic heedlessness into the abyss that he
so fearfully avoided--I replied to his terrific words: "You fill me
with affright it is true, dearest father, but you only confirm my
resolution to put an end to this state of doubt. I will not be put off
thus: do you think that I can live thus fearfully from day to day--the
sword in my bosom yet kept from its mortal wound by a hair--a word!--I
demand that dreadful word; though it be as a flash of lightning to
destroy me, speak it.

"Alas! Alas! What am I become? But a few months have elapsed since I
believed that I was all the world to you; and that there was no
happiness or grief for you on earth unshared by your Mathilda--your
child: that happy time is no longer, and what I most dreaded in this
world is come upon me. In the despair of my heart I see what you
cannot conceal: you no longer love me. I adjure you, my father, has
not an unnatural passion seized upon your heart? Am I not the most
miserable worm that crawls? Do I not embrace your knees, and you most
cruelly repulse me? I know it--I see it--you hate me!"

I was transported by violent emotion, and rising from his feet, at
which I had thrown myself, I leant against a tree, wildly raising my
eyes to heaven. He began to answer with violence: "Yes, yes, I hate
you! You are my bane, my poison, my disgust! Oh! No[!]" And then his
manner changed, and fixing his eyes on me with an expression that
convulsed every nerve and member of my frame--"you are none of all
these; you are my light, my only one, my life.--My daughter, I love
you!" The last words died away in a hoarse whisper, but I heard them
and sunk on the ground, covering my face and almost dead with excess
of sickness and fear: a cold perspiration covered my forehead and I
shivered in every limb--But he continued, clasping his hands with a
frantic gesture:

"Now I have dashed from the top of the rock to the bottom! Now I have
precipitated myself down the fearful chasm! The danger is over; she is
alive! Oh, Mathilda, lift up those dear eyes in the light of which I
live. Let me hear the sweet tones of your beloved voice in peace and
calm. Monster as I am, you are still, as you ever were, lovely,
beautiful beyond expression. What I have become since this last moment
I know not; perhaps I am changed in mien as the fallen archangel. I do
believe I am for I have surely a new soul within me, and my blood
riots through my veins: I am burnt up with fever. But these are
precious moments; devil as I am become, yet that is my Mathilda before
me whom I love as one was never before loved: and she knows it now;
she listens to these words which I thought, fool as I was, would blast
her to death. Come, come, the worst is past: no more grief, tears or
despair; were not those the words you uttered?--We have leapt the
chasm I told you of, and now, mark me, Mathilda, we are to find
flowers, and verdure and delight, or is it hell, and fire, and
tortures? Oh! Beloved One, I am borne away; I can no longer sustain
myself; surely this is death that is coming. Let me lay my head near
your heart; let me die in your arms!"--He sunk to the earth fainting,
while I, nearly as lifeless, gazed on him in despair.

Yes it was despair I felt; for the first time that phantom seized me;
the first and only time for it has never since left me--After the
first moments of speechless agony I felt her fangs on my heart: I tore
my hair; I raved aloud; at one moment in pity for his sufferings I
would have clasped my father in my arms; and then starting back with
horror I spurned him with my foot; I felt as if stung by a serpent,
as if scourged by a whip of scorpions which drove me--Ah!
Whither--Whither?

Well, this could not last. One idea rushed on my mind; never, never
may I speak to him again. As this terrible conviction came upon _him_
[_me_?] it melted my soul to tenderness and love--I gazed on him as to
take my last farewell--he lay insensible--his eyes closed as [_and_?]
his cheeks deathly pale. Above, the leaves of the beech wood cast a
flickering shadow on his face, and waved in mournful melody over
him--I saw all these things and said, "Aye, this is his grave!" And
then I wept aloud, and raised my eyes to heaven to entreat for a
respite to my despair and an alleviation for his unnatural
suffering--the tears that gushed in a warm & healing stream from my
eyes relieved the burthen that oppressed my heart almost to madness. I
wept for a long time untill I saw him about to revive, when horror and
misery again recurred, and the tide of my sensations rolled back to
their former channel: with a terror I could not restrain--I sprung up
and fled, with winged speed, along the paths of the wood and across
the fields untill nearly dead I reached our house and just ordering
the servants to seek my father at the spot I indicated, I shut myself
up in my own room[.][33]

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