Part the First
They walked together. He was silent. She thought he was often looking at her, and trying for a fuller view of her face than it suited her to give. And this belief produced another dread. Perhaps Angel wanted to speak to her, he might be watching for encouragement to begin.
She did not, could not, feel equal to lead the way to any such subject. He must do it all himself. Yet she could not bear this silence. Although with him it was most natural and common, she considered — resolved — and, trying to smile, Buffy began —
"You have some news to hear, that will rather surprise you."
"Have I?" said Angel quietly, in his low voice, and looking at her; "of what nature?"
"Oh! the best nature in the world -- a slaying."
After waiting a moment, as if to be sure she intended to say no more, he replied, "If you mean Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill, the Mathematics teachers, I have heard of that already."
"How is it possible?" cried Buffy, turning her glowing cheeks towards him; for, while she spoke, it occurred to her that he might have called at the Library in his way.
"I had a few lines from Mr. Giles this morning, and at the end of them he gave me a brief account of what had happened."
Buffy was quite relieved, and could presently say, with a little more composure, "You probably have been less surprized than any of us, for you have had your suspicions. I have not forgotten that you once tried to give me a caution. I wish I had attended to it — but —" (with a sinking voice and a heavy sigh) "I seem to have been doomed to blindness." She sighed again, and spoke in almost a whisper, "I did not know him to be such a monster." And then, louder, almost agitated, "To think that I, I tried to create a match between them. He seemed... such a gentleman, and was particularly kind to me."
For a moment or two nothing was said, and she was unsuspicious of having excited any particular interest, till she found her arm drawn within his, and pressed against his unbeating heart, and heard Angel thus saying, in a tone of great sensibility, speaking low, "Time, my dearest Buffy, time will heal the wound. I know you will not allow yourself. —" Her arm was pressed again, as he added, in a more broken and subdued accent, "The feelings of the warmest friendship — Indignation — Abominable scoundrel!"— And in a louder, steadier tone, he concluded with, "He is gone now. I am sorry for her. She deserved a better fate."
Buffy understood him; and as soon as she could recover from the flutter of pleasure excited by such tender consideration, replied, "You are very kind — but you are mistaken — and I must set you right.— I am not in want of that sort of compassion." Buffy paused to collect herself. "My blindness to what was going on, led me to act by them in a way that I must always be ashamed of, and I was very foolishly tempted to say and do many things which may well lay me open to unpleasant conjectures, but I have no other reason to regret that I was not in the secret earlier."
Angel pressed her arm to him again, and saying "My dearest Buffy, I must always endeavor to assure that there are no secrets kept from you. I will take this for my only purpose in my existence." Thus saying, the two figures moved further into the mists of the cemetery, and out of view.
Part the Second
Buffy was determined to amend the mistaken impression that Angel seemed to have formed as to the object of her desire; she was, however, quite unsure as to how to proceed on this course of action. For a moment she was silent; glancing surreptiously at her mute companion, she then said, in a tone much more guarded and demure than her usual, "I will not pretend not to understand you; and to give you all the relief in my power, be assured that no such effect has followed his attentions to me, as you are apprehensive of."
Angel looked up, afraid to believe; but Buffy's countenance was as steady as her words.
"That you may have less difficulty in believing this boast, of my present perfect indifference," she continued, "I will farther tell you, that there was a period in the early part of our acquaintance, when I did like him, when I was very much disposed to be attached to him — nay, was attached, in a way of friendship -- and how it came to cease, is perhaps the wonder. Fortunately, however, it did cease. I have really for some time past, for at least these three months, cared nothing about him, save in the nature of indifferent friendship. You may believe me; this is the simple truth."
Angel listened in perfect silence. She wished him to speak, but he would not. She supposed she must say more before she were entitled to his clemency; but it was a hard case to be obliged still to lower herself in his opinion. She went on, however.
"I have very little to say for my own conduct. I was tempted by his attentions, and allowed myself to appear pleased. Indeed, to dance with him, as you yourself observed. An old story, probably — a common case — and no more than has happened to hundreds of my sex before; and yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding, due to my unique circumstances. Many are the circumstances which assisted the temptation. He was the childhood friend of my bosom companion, Willow — he was continually here — I always found him very pleasant — and, in short, for (with a sigh) let me swell out the causes ever so ingeniously, they all centre in this at last — my vanity was flattered, and I allowed his attentions. Latterly, however — for some time, indeed — I have had no idea of their meaning any thing. I thought them a habit, a trick, nothing that called for seriousness on my side. He has imposed on me, but he has not injured me. I have never been attached to him. And now I can tolerably comprehend his behaviour. He never wished to attach me. It was merely a blind to conceal his real attraction for another. It was his wholly unconscious object to distract all about him; and no one, I am sure, could be more effectually blinded than myself — except that I was not blinded — that it was my good fortune — that, in short, I was somehow or other safe from him."
She had hoped for an answer here — for a few words to say that her conduct was at least intelligible; but Angel was silent; and, as far as she could judge, deep in thought. At last, and tolerably in his usual tone, he said,
"I have never had a high opinion of Mr. Harris. I can suppose, however, that I may have underrated him. My acquaintance with him has been but trifling. And even if I have not underrated him hitherto, he may yet turn out well. With this affection he tenders toward Miss Rosenberg — with such a woman he has a chance. I have no motive for wishing him ill — and for her sake, whose happiness will be involved in his good character and conduct, I shall certainly wish him well."
"I have no doubt of their being happy together," said Buffy; "I believe them to be very mutually and very sincerely attached."
"He is a most fortunate man!" returned Angel, with energy, the first such energy he had shewn thus far in their exchange. "So early in life — what years of felicity that man, in all human calculation, has before him! Assured of the love of such a woman — the disinterested love, for Miss Rosenberg's character vouches for her disinterestedness; every thing in his favour — since the purity of her heart is not to be doubted, such as must increase his felicity, for it will be his to bestow the only advantages she wants. Xander Harris is, indeed, the favourite of fortune. Every thing turns out for his good. He meets with a young woman, gains her affection, cannot even weary her by negligent treatment — and such has he shown her — and had he and all his family sought round the world for a perfect wife for him, they could not have found her superior. His friends are eager to promote his happiness. He is a fortunate man indeed!"
"You speak as if you envied him." Buffy said, hesitatingly, as if afraid to say too much, and by thus saying, inhibit further confidences.
"And I do envy him, Buffy. In one respect he is the object of my envy."
Buffy could say no more. They seemed to be within half a sentence of the heart of the matter, and her immediate feeling was to avert the subject, if possible. She made her plan; she would speak of something totally different; and she only waited for breath to begin, when Angel startled her, by saying,
"You will not ask me what is the point of envy. You are determined, I see, to have no curiosity. You are wise -- but I cannot be wise. Buffy, I must tell you what you will not ask, though I may wish it unsaid the next moment."
"Oh! then, don't speak it, don't speak it," she eagerly cried. "Take a little time, consider, do not commit yourself."
"Thank you," said he, in an accent of deep mortification, and not another syllable followed.
Buffy could not bear to give him pain. He was wishing to confide in her, perhaps to consult her; cost her what it would, she would listen. She might assist his resolution, or reconcile him to it; by representing to him his own independence, relieve him from that state of indecision, which must be more intolerable than any alternative to such a mind as his. They had reached her house.
"You are going in, I suppose?" said Angel.
"No," replied Buffy — quite confirmed by the depressed manner in which he still spoke — "I should like to take another turn." And, after proceeding a few steps, she added, "I stopped you ungraciously, Angel, just now, and, I am afraid, gave you pain. But if you have any wish to speak openly to me as a friend, or to ask my opinion of any thing that you may have in contemplation — as a friend, indeed, you may command me. I will hear whatever you like. I will tell you exactly what I think."
"As a friend!" repeated Angel. "Buffy, that I fear is a word — No, I have no wish — Stay, yes, why should I hesitate? I have gone too far already for concealment. Such concealment has become anathema to me. Buffy, I accept your offer — Extraordinary as it may seem, I accept it, and refer myself to you as a friend. Tell me, then, have I no chance of ever succeeding?"
He stopped in his earnestness to look the question, and the expression of his eyes overpowered her. His countenance spoke volumes, his deepest emotions showing plain upon it.
"My dearest Buffy," said he, "for dearest you will always be, whatever the event of this hour's conversation, my dearest, most beloved Buffy — tell me at once. Say 'No,' if it is to be said." She could really say nothing. "You are silent," he cried, "absolutely silent! at present I ask no more."
Buffy was almost ready to sink under the agitation of this moment. The dread of being awakened from the happiest dream, was perhaps the most prominent feeling.
"I cannot make speeches, Buffy." he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. My state, which should elicit the deepest loathing from you, excites no such feelings. This acceptance has driven me to the deepest admiration for you. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in America would have borne it. Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Buffy, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover. But you understand me. Yes, you see, you understand my feelings — and will return them if you can. At present, I ask only to hear, once to hear your voice."
While he spoke, Buffy's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able — and yet without losing a word — to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole; to see that what she had been saying relative to Willow had been all taken as the language of her own feelings; and that her agitation, her doubts, her reluctance, her discouragement, had been all received as discouragement from herself.
Her way was clear, though not quite smooth. She spoke then, on being so entreated. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does. "Oh, Angel; dear Angel. There is not—could not—be anything of loathing in any aspect of my regard for you. The truth you speak to me—difficult as it may be for me to hear—has always shown such a regard for my present safety and comfort, often to the detriment of your own, that I can not help but be moved by it." She looked down, unable to bear to meet his eyes, with such a depth of emotion plain in them. She spoke quietly, loath to cause any pain in one so very dear to her. "I have used you poorly, I'm afraid, for one who has shown such determined charity to one who has, most unwisely, chosen time and time again to disregard such advice as you have seen fit to render." She paused, then spoke on, determined to express her regrets. "You have censured me—it is too calm a censure. And I have answered you indelicately."
She looked up then. It seemed as if there were an instantaneous impression in her favour, as if his eyes received the truth from her's, and all that had passed of good in her feelings were at once caught and honoured. He looked at her with a glow of regard.
So overwhelmed was she by this show, that she impulsively cried out, "Oh, Angel--my Angel, of course I will accept you--as a friend, and more than a friend!"
She was warmly gratified — He took her hand; — whether she had not herself made the first motion, she could not say — she might, perhaps, have rather offered it—but he took her hand, pressed it, carrying it to his lips—there to press them most tenderly to her hand.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material. Angel could not impute to Buffy a more relenting heart than she possessed, or a heart more disposed to accept of his.
He had, in fact, been wholly unsuspicious of his own influence. He had followed her into the shrubbery with no idea of trying it. He had come with no selfish view, no view at all, but of endeavouring, if she allowed him an opening, to soothe or to counsel her. The rest had been the work of the moment, the immediate effect of what he heard, on his feelings. The delightful assurance of her total indifference towards Xander Harris, of her having a heart completely disengaged from him, had given birth to the hope, that, in time, he might gain her affection himself; —but it had been no present hope—he had only, in the momentary conquest of eagerness over judgment, aspired to be told that she did not forbid his attempt to attach her. The superior hopes which gradually opened were so much the more enchanting. The affection, which he had been asking to be allowed to create, if he could, was already his! Within half an hour, he had passed from a thoroughly distressed state of mind, to something so like perfect happiness, that it could bear no other name.
Her change was equal. This one half-hour had given to each the same precious certainty of being beloved, had cleared from each the same degree of ignorance, jealousy, or distrust. On his side, there had been a long-standing jealousy, old as the arrival, or even the expectation, of Mr. Harris. He had been in love with Buffy, and jealous of Mr. Harris, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other. It was his jealousy that had taken him from the country. The Bronze dance had decided him on going away. He would save himself from witnessing again such permitted, encouraged attentions.
But was there so much fond solicitude, so much keen anxiety for her, that he could stay no longer. He had traveled home through the rain; and had walked up directly, to see this sweetest and best of all creatures, faultless in spite of all her faults.
She was his own Buffy, by hand and word, when they returned to her house; and if he could have thought of Mr. Harris then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.
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