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   Chapter 33 THE SECRET STAIRWAY.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 3745

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"God bless you!" said Andrew as he handed her a gourd of water to revive her. "You are as faithful as Hero. You are another Heloise. You are as brave as the Maid of Orleans. I will never say that women are unfaithful again. God bless you, my daughter! You have given me faith in your sex. I have been a lonely man; a boughless, leafless trunk, shaken by the winter winds. But you are my niece. You know how to be faithful. I am proud of you! Henceforth I call you my daughter. If you were my daughter, you would be to me all that Margaret Roper was to Sir Thomas More." And the shaggy man of egotistic and pedantic speech, but of womanly sensibilities, was weeping.

The reviving Julia begged to know how August was.

"Ah, constant heart! And he is constant as you are. Noble fellow! I will not deceive you. The doctors think that he will not live more than twenty-four hours. But he is only dying to see you, now. Your coming may revive him. We sent for you this morning by Jonas, hoping you might escape and come in some way. But Jonas could not get his message to you. Some angel must have brought you. It is an augury of good."

The hopefulness of Andrew sprang out of his faith in an ideal, right outcome. Julia could not conceal from herself the fact that his opinion had no ground. But in such a strait as hers, she could not help clinging even to this support.

Andrew was a little perplexed. How to take Julia up-stairs? Mrs. Wehle and Wilhelmina and the doctor went in regularly, not by the rope-ladder, but by a more secure wooden one which he had planted against the outside of the house. But Andrew had suddenly conceived so exalted an opinion of his niece's virtues that he was unwilling to lead her into the upper story in that fashion. His imagination had invested her with all the glories of all the heroines, from Penelope to Beatrice, and from B

eatrice to Scott's Rebecca. At last a sudden impulse seized him.

"My dear daughter, they say that genius is to madness close allied. When I built this house I was in a state bordering on insanity, I suppose. I pleased my whims--my whims were my only company--I pleased my whims in building an American castle. These whims begin to seem childish to me now. I put in a secret stairway. No human foot but my own has ever trodden it. August, whom I love more than any other, and who is one of the few admitted to my library, has always ascended by the rope-ladder. But you are my niece; I would you were my daughter. I will signalize my reverence for you by showing up the stairway the woman who knows how to love and be faithful, the feet that would be worthy of golden steps if I had them. Come."

Spite of her grief and anxiety, Julia was impressed and oppressed with the reverence shown her by her uncle. She had a veneration almost superstitious for the Philosopher's learning. She was not accustomed to even respectful treatment, and to be worshiped in this awful way by such a man was something almost as painful as it was pleasant.

The entrance to the stairway, if that could be called a stairway which was as difficult of ascent as a ladder, was through a closet by the side of the donjon chimney, and the logs had been so arranged without and within that the space occupied by the narrow and zigzag stairs was not apparent. Up these stairs he took Julia, leaving her in a closet above. As this closet was situated alongside the chimney, it opened, of course, into the small corner room which I have before described, and in which August was now lying. Andrew descended the stairs and entered the upper story again by the outside ladder. He thought best to prepare August for the coming of Julia, lest joy should destroy a life that was so far wasted.

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