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When the inmates of the house, attracted by Oliver's cries, hurried to the spot from which they proceeded, they found him, pale and agitated, pointing in the direction of the meadows behind the house, and scarcely able to articulate the words, 'The Jew! the Jew!' Mr. Giles was at a loss to comprehend what this outcry meant; but Harry Maylie, whose perceptions were something quicker, and who had heard Oliver's history from his mother, understood it at once. 'What direction did he take?' he asked, catching up a heavy stick which was standing in a corner. 'That,' replied Oliver, pointing out the course the man had taken; 'I missed them in an instant.' 'Then, they are in the ditch!' said Harry.

'Follow!

And keep as near me, as you can.' So saying, he sprang over the hedge, and darted off with a speed which rendered it matter of exceeding difficulty for the others to keep near him. Giles followed as well as he could; and Oliver followed too; and in the course of a minute or two, Mr. Losberne, who had been out walking, and just then returned, tumbled over the hedge after them, and picking himself up with more agility than he could have been supposed to possess, struck into the same course at no contemptible speed, shouting all the while, most prodigiously, to know what was the matter. On they all went; nor stopped they once to breathe, until the leader, striking off into an angle of the field indicated by Oliver, began to search, narrowly, the ditch and hedge adjoining; which afforded time for the remainder of the party to come up; and for Oliver to communicate to Mr. Losberne the circumstances that had led to so vigorous a pursuit. The search was all in vain.

There were not even the traces of recent footsteps, to be seen.

They stood now, on the summit of a little hill, commanding the open fields in every direction for three or four miles.

There was the village in the hollow on the left; but, in order to gain that, after pursuing the track Oliver had pointed out, the men must have made a circuit of open ground, which it was impossible they could have accomplished in so short a time.

A thick wood skirted the meadow-land in another direction; but they could not have gained that covert for the same reason. 'It must have been a dream, Oliver,' said Harry Maylie. 'Oh no, indeed, sir,' replied Oliver, shuddering at the very recollection of the old wretch's countenance; 'I saw him too plainly for that.

I saw them both, as plainly as I see you now.' 'Who was the other?' inquired Harry and Mr. Losberne, together. 'The very same man I told you of, who came so suddenly upon me at the inn,' said Oliver.

'We had our eyes fixed full upon each other; and I could swear to him.' 'They took this way?' demanded Harry:

'are you sure?' 'As I am that the men were at the window,' replied Oliver, pointing down, as he spoke, to the hedge which divided the cottage-garden from the meadow.

'The tall man leaped over, just there; and the Jew, running a few paces to the right, crept through that gap.' The two gentlemen watched Oliver's earnest face, as he spoke, and looking from him to each other, seemed to feel satisfied of the accuracy of what he said.

Still, in no direction were there any appearances of the trampling of men in hurried flight.

The grass was long; but it was trodden down nowhere, save where their own feet had crushed it.

The sides and brinks of the ditches were of damp clay; but in no one place could they discern the print of men's shoes, or the slightest mark which would indicate that any feet had pressed the ground for hours before. 'This is strange!' said Harry. 'Strange?' echoed the doctor.

'Blathers and Duff, themselves, could make nothing of it.' Notwithstanding the evidently useless nature of their search, they did not desist until the coming on of night rendered its further prosecution hopeless; and even then, they gave it up with reluctance.

Giles was dispatched to the different ale-houses in the village, furnished with the best description Oliver could give of the appearance and dress of the strangers.

Of these, the Jew was, at all events, sufficiently remarkable to be remembered, supposing he had been seen drinking, or loitering about; but Giles returned without any intelligence, calculated to dispel or lessen the mystery. On the next day, fresh search was made, and the inquiries renewed; but with no better success.

On the day following, Oliver and Mr. Maylie repaired to the market-town, in the hope of seeing or hearing something of the men there; but this effort was equally fruitless.

After a few days, the affair began to be forgotten, as most affairs are, when wonder, having no fresh food to support it, dies away of itself. Meanwhile, Rose was rapidly recovering.

She had left her room: was able to go out; and mixing once more with the family, carried joy into the hearts of all. But, although this happy change had a visible effect on the little circle; and although cheerful voices and merry laughter were once more heard in the cottage; there was at times, an unwonted restraint upon some there:

even upon Rose herself: which Oliver could not fail to remark.

Mrs. Maylie and her son were often closeted together for a long time; and more than once Rose appeared with traces of tears upon her face.

After Mr. Losberne had fixed a day for his departure to Chertsey, these symptoms increased; and it became evident that something was in progress which affected the peace of the young lady, and of somebody else besides. At length, one morning, when Rose was alone in the breakfast-parlour, Harry Maylie entered; and, with some hesitation, begged permission to speak with her for a few moments. 'A few--a very few--will suffice, Rose,' said the young man, drawing his chair towards her.

'What I shall have to say, has already presented itself to your mind; the most cherished hopes of my heart are not unknown to you, though from my lips you have not heard them stated.' Rose had been very pale from the moment of his entrance; but that might have been the effect of her recent illness.

She merely bowed; and bending over some plants that stood near, waited in silence for him to proceed. 'I--I--ought to have left here, before,' said Harry. 'You should, indeed,' replied Rose.

'Forgive me for saying so, but I wish you had.' 'I was brought here, by the most dreadful and agonising of all apprehensions,' said the young man; 'the fear of losing the one dear being on whom my every wish and hope are fixed.

You had been dying; trembling between earth and heaven.

We know that when the young, the beautiful, and good, are visited with sickness, their pure spirits insensibly turn towards their bright home of lasting rest; we know, Heaven help us! that the best and fairest of our kind, too often fade in blooming.' There were tears in the eyes of the gentle girl, as these words were spoken; and when one fell upon the flower over which she bent, and glistened brightly in its cup, making it more beautiful, it seemed as though the outpouring of her fresh young heart, claimed kindred naturally, with the loveliest things in nature. 'A creature,' continued the young man, passionately, 'a creature as fair and innocent of guile as one of God's own angels, fluttered between life and death.

Oh! who could hope, when the distant world to which she was akin, half opened to her view, that she would return to the sorrow and calamity of this!

Rose, Rose, to know that you were passing away like some soft shadow, which a light from above, casts upon the earth; to have no hope that you would be spared to those who linger here; hardly to know a reason why you should be; to feel that you belonged to that bright sphere whither so many of the fairest and the best have winged their early flight; and yet to pray, amid all these consolations, that you might be restored to those who loved you--these were distractions almost too great to bear. They were mine, by day and night; and with them, came such a rushing torrent of fears, and apprehensions, and selfish regrets, lest you should die, and never know how devotedly I loved you, as almost bore down sense and reason in its course.

You recovered. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, some drop of health came back, and mingling with the spent and feeble stream of life which circulated languidly within you, swelled it again to a high and rushing tide.

I have watched you change almost from death, to life, with eyes that turned blind with their eagerness and deep affection. Do not tell me that you wish I had lost this; for it has softened my heart to all mankind.' 'I did not mean that,' said Rose, weeping; 'I only wish you had left here, that you might have turned to high and noble pursuits again; to pursuits well worthy of you.' 'There is no pursuit more worthy of me:

more worthy of the highest nature that exists:

than the struggle to win such a heart as yours,' said the young man, taking her hand. 'Rose, my own dear Rose!

For years--for years--I have loved you; hoping to win my way to fame, and then come proudly home and tell you it had been pursued only for you to share; thinking, in my daydreams, how I would remind you, in that happy moment, of the many silent tokens I had given of a boy's attachment, and claim your hand, as in redemption of some old mute contract that had been sealed between us!

That time has not arrived; but here, with not fame won, and no young vision realised, I offer you the heart so long your own, and stake my all upon the words with which you greet the offer.' 'Your behaviour has ever been kind and noble.' said Rose, mastering the emotions by which she was agitated.

'As you believe that I am not insensible or ungrateful, so hear my answer.' 'It is, that I may endeavour to deserve you; it is, dear Rose?' 'It is,' replied Rose, 'that you must endeavour to forget me; not as your old and dearly-attached companion, for that would wound me deeply; but, as the object of your love.

Look into the world; think how many hearts you would be proud to gain, are there. Confide some other passion to me, if you will; I will be the truest, warmest, and most faithful friend you have.' There was a pause, during which, Rose, who had covered her face with one hand, gave free vent to her tears.

Harry still retained the other. 'And your reasons, Rose,' he said, at length, in a low voice; 'your reasons for this decision?' 'You have a right to know them,' rejoined Rose.

'You can say nothing to alter my resolution.

It is a duty that I must perform.

I owe it, alike to others, and to myself.' 'To yourself?' 'Yes, Harry.

I owe it to myself, that I, a friendless, portionless, girl, with a blight upon my name, should not give your friends reason to suspect that I had sordidly yielded to your first passion, and fastened myself, a clog, on all your hopes and projects.

I owe it to you and yours, to prevent you from opposing, in the warmth of your generous nature, this great obstacle to your progress in the world.' 'If your inclinations chime with your sense of duty--' Harry began. 'They do not,' replied Rose, colouring deeply. 'Then you return my love?' said Harry.

'Say but that, dear Rose; say but that; and soften the bitterness of this hard disappointment!' 'If I could have done so, without doing heavy wrong to him I loved,' rejoined Rose, 'I could have--' 'Have received this declaration very differently?' said Harry. 'Do not conceal that from me, at least, Rose.' 'I could,' said Rose.

'Stay!' she added, disengaging her hand, 'why should we prolong this painful interview?

Most painful to me, and yet productive of lasting happiness, notwithstanding; for it _will_ be happiness to know that I once held the high place in your regard which I now occupy, and every triumph you achieve in life will animate me with new fortitude and firmness.

Farewell, Harry!

As we have met to-day, we meet no more; but in other relations than those in which this conversation have placed us, we may be long and happily entwined; and may every blessing that the prayers of a true and earnest heart can call down from the source of all truth and sincerity, cheer and prosper you!' 'Another word, Rose,' said Harry.

'Your reason in your own words.

From your own lips, let me hear it!' 'The prospect before you,' answered Rose, firmly, 'is a brilliant one.

All the honours to which great talents and powerful connections can help men in public life, are in store for you. But those connections are proud; and I will neither mingle with such as may hold in scorn the mother who gave me life; nor bring disgrace or failure on the son of her who has so well supplied that mother's place.

In a word,' said the young lady, turning away, as her temporary firmness forsook her, 'there is a stain upon my name, which the world visits on innocent heads.

I will carry it into no blood but my own; and the reproach shall rest alone on me.' 'One word more, Rose.

Dearest Rose! one more!' cried Harry, throwing himself before her.

'If I had been less--less fortunate, the world would call it--if some obscure and peaceful life had been my destiny--if I had been poor, sick, helpless--would you have turned from me then?

Or has my probable advancement to riches and honour, given this scruple birth?' 'Do not press me to reply,' answered Rose.

'The question does not arise, and never will.

It is unfair, almost unkind, to urge it.' 'If your answer be what I almost dare to hope it is,' retorted Harry, 'it will shed a gleam of happiness upon my lonely way, and light the path before me.

It is not an idle thing to do so much, by the utterance of a few brief words, for one who loves you beyond all else.

Oh, Rose: in the name of my ardent and enduring attachment; in the name of all I have suffered for you, and all you doom me to undergo; answer me this one question!' 'Then, if your lot had been differently cast,' rejoined Rose; 'if you had been even a little, but not so far, above me; if I could have been a help and comfort to you in any humble scene of peace and retirement, and not a blot and drawback in ambitious and distinguished crowds; I should have been spared this trial.

I have every reason to be happy, very happy, now; but then, Harry, I own I should have been happier.' Busy recollections of old hopes, cherished as a girl, long ago, crowded into the mind of Rose, while making this avowal; but they brought tears with them, as old hopes will when they come back withered; and they relieved her. 'I cannot help this weakness, and it makes my purpose stronger,' said Rose, extending her hand.

'I must leave you now, indeed.' 'I ask one promise,' said Harry.

'Once, and only once more,--say within a year, but it may be much sooner,--I may speak to you again on this subject, for the last time.' 'Not to press me to alter my right determination,' replied Rose, with a melancholy smile; 'it will be useless.' 'No,' said Harry; 'to hear you repeat it, if you will--finally repeat it!

I will lay at your feet, whatever of station of fortune I may possess; and if you still adhere to your present resolution, will not seek, by word or act, to change it.' 'Then let it be so,' rejoined Rose; 'it is but one pang the more, and by that time I may be enabled to bear it better.' She extended her hand again.

But the young man caught her to his bosom; and imprinting one kiss on her beautiful forehead, hurried from the room.

(奥立弗的奇遇不了了之。哈利·梅莱与露丝之间进行了一次相当重要的谈话。)

别墅里的人听到喊声,纷纷赶到奥立弗呼救的地点,发现他脸色煞白,激动不已,手指着别墅背后那片草地的方向,连“老犹太!老犹太!”儿个字都几乎说不清了。

凯尔司先生弄不清这喊叫声的含意,还是哈利·梅莱脑子来得快,加上他已经从母亲那儿听说了奥立弗的经历,一下子就明白过来了。

“他们走的是哪个方向?”他抓起角落里立着的一根沉甸甸的棒子,问道。

“那个方向,”奥立弗指着两个人逃走的方向,回答道,“一眨眼就看不见他们了。”

“他们肯定躲在沟里。”哈利说道,“跟我来。尽量离我近一点。”说着,他跃过篱笆,箭一般冲了出去,其他人要想跟上都很困难。

凯尔司使足了气力跟在后边,奥立弗也跟了上去,就在这当儿,外出散步的罗斯伯力先生回来了,也尾随着他们,跌跌撞撞地翻过篱笆,又敏捷得超乎人们想像地一咕噜爬起来,急步加入了这一场追击,速度之快谁也不敢藐视,同时一选连声地扯着嗓子大叫,很想弄明白是怎么一回事。

他们一路飞奔,一次也没有停下来歇口气,跑在最前头的那一位冲进奥立弗指出的那片田野的一角,开始仔细搜索沟渠和附近的篱笆,其余的人抓紧时间赶上前来,奥立弗也才得到机会,将导致这一场全力追击的原委告诉罗斯伯力先生。

搜索一无所获,就连新近留下的脚印也没有发现。这时,他们站在一座小山顶上,从这里可以俯瞰方圆三四英里之内的开阔原野。左边凹地里有一个村子,可是,在跑过了奥立弗所指的那条路之后,他们几个非得在开阔地里兜一圈才到得了那个村子,他们在这么短促的时间里是不可能办到的。在另一个方向,牧场的边缘连接着一片密林,但根据同样的理由,他们也无法赶到那个藏身之处。

“这肯定是个梦,奥立弗。”哈利·梅莱说道。

“噢,不,真的,先生,”奥立弗回想起那个老家伙的面目,顿时不寒而栗。“我可把他看清楚了。我把他们俩看得清清楚楚,就像我现在看着您一样。”

“另一个是谁?”哈利与罗斯伯力先生异口同声。

“就是我跟您讲过的那个人,在客店里一下撞到我身上的那一个。”奥立弗说,“我们都睁大眼睛互相看着。我可以发誓,肯定是他。”

“他们走的是这条路?”哈利追问道,“你没弄错吧?”

“错不了,那两个人就在窗子跟前,”奥立弗一边说,一边指了指把别墅花园和牧场隔开的那道篱笆。“高个子就从那儿跳过去。老犹太往右边跑了几步,是从那个缺口爬出去的。”

奥立弗说话的时候,两位绅士一直注视着他那诚恳的面孔,然后又相互看了一眼,似乎确信他说得很有道理。可是,无论哪个方向都看不出一丝一毫有人仓惶出逃的痕迹。草很深,但除了他们自己的脚步踩过的,其余的草都没被踏倒,沟渠的两侧和边沿有一些湿漉漉的泥土,但是没有一处能认出有人的鞋印,也没有丝毫痕迹表明过去几个小时里曾经有脚踩在这块地面上。

“这可真奇怪。”哈利说。

“怪?”大夫应声说道,“布拉瑟斯跟达福亲自来也弄不出什么名堂。”

尽管搜索显然已属徒劳,他们并没有停下来,直到夜幕降临,再找下去已毫无指望,这才罢手,但也是很不情愿。凯尔司奉命匆匆赶往村里的几家啤酒店,根据奥立弗所能提供的最为详尽的描述,前去寻访两个长相、穿着与此相符的陌生人。在这两个人当中,老犹太无论如何也是不难让人想起来的,假如有人看见他在附近喝酒或者是溜达的话。尽管如此,凯尔司却没有带着任何足以解开这个谜或者多少澄清一点疑云的消息回来。

第二天,进行了新的搜索,重又打听了一番,但结果也好不到哪儿去。第三天,奥立弗和罗斯伯力先生上镇子里去了,指望在那里看见或者听到那伙人的一点什么事情,可这一番努力同样毫无结果。几天之后,这件事渐渐被人遗忘了,跟大部分事情一样,怪事如果得不到新的养料,往往自生自灭。

与此同时,露丝日渐好转,她已经脱离了病房,能够出外走一走了,她又一次同家中的人呆在一块儿,把欢乐带到每个人的心里。

然而,尽管这一可喜的变化给这个小天地带来了明显的影响,尽管别墅里再度响起了笑语欢声,某些人,甚至包括露丝本人,却时时呈现出一种不常有的拘谨,奥立弗不可能对此毫无党察。梅莱太太和儿子经常闭门长谈。露丝不止一次面带泪痕出现。在罗斯伯力先生确定了前去杰茨的日子以后,这些迹象有增无已。显然有件什么事情正在进行之中,打破了少女以及另外几个人内心的平静。

终于,一天早晨,摆着早餐的房间里只有露丝一个人,哈利·梅莱走了进去。他带着几分犹豫,恳求允许自己和她交谈片刻。

“几分钟——只需要几分钟——就够了,露丝,”年轻人把椅子拖到她的面前,“我不得不一吐为快,这些话本身你其实已经明白了,我心中最珍视的希望你也并非一无所知,尽管你还没有听到这些话从我口中说出来。”

他一进门,露丝的脸色就变得一片苍白,不过这也可能是她新近患病的反应。她只是点了点头,便朝旁边的几盆花俯下身去,默默地等着他往下说。

“我——我——早就该离开这儿了。”哈利说道。

“你应该,真的,”露丝回答,“原谅我这么说,但我希望你离开。”

“我是被最可怕、最令人烦恼的忧虑带到这儿来的,”年轻人说,“担心失去自己唯一的心上人,我的每一个愿望、每一种期待都寄托在她身上。你差一点死去,一直是在尘世和天国之间摇摆。我们都知道,每当美好、善良的年轻人受到疾病的困扰,纯洁的灵魂不知不觉便转向了他们那个光明的、永生的归宿。我们知道——老天保佑——在我们的同类当中,最善良、最可爱的人往往英年早逝。”

在这些话语倾吐出来的时候,娴静的姑娘眼里噙着泪水,一颗泪珠滴落在她低头面对的花朵上,在花冠里闪出晶莹的光华,把花儿衬托得更加妩媚动人,仿佛从她那美好、年轻的心田里涌出的泪花理所当然要与天地间最娇艳的花朵一比高低似的。

“一个人,”小伙子冲动地说,“一个与上帝身边的天使一样美丽、一样天真无邪的姑娘,在生与死之间摇摆不定。噢!她所亲近的遥远世界已经在她眼前揭开了一半,谁能指望她会回到这个世界的悲哀和不幸中来啊!露丝,露丝,知道你正在像上界的光辉投射到几间的柔和阴影一样离去,再也没有希望祈求上苍为了那些在此徘徊流连的人而把你留下,又一点儿都不知道有什么理由值得你留下,感觉到你已经属于那一片光明的乐土,许许多多最美丽、最善良的人早就飞到那里去了,尽管聊以慰藉的办法很多很多,却还要祈求把你还给那些爱你的人——这些颠来倒去的想法简直叫人承受不住。我白天黑夜都处在这样的心请。恐惧、忧虑和自私的懊悔像奔腾的激流一样朝我涌来,生怕你一旦死去,就永远也不会知道我对你的爱是多么忠贞,这股激流几乎把我的知觉和理智一起冲走了。你恢复过来了,一天一天,几乎是一小时接一小时,健康如同水珠,点点滴滴汇人在你身体里缓慢流淌的生命溪流,它本来已经消耗殆尽,失去活力,现在重又变成汹涌奔腾的大潮,我曾用由于渴望和深情而变得近乎盲目的眼睛,注视着你死里逃生。难道你会对我说,你希望我抛开这份深情?要知道,正是这份深情使我的心变软了,改变了我对全人类的态度。”

“我没有这个意思,”露丝流着泪水说,“我只是希望你离开这儿,你就可以重新转向崇高的事业,转向值得你追求的事业。”

“没有什么事,哪怕是最崇高的追求,能比得上赢得像你这样的一颗心,”年轻人握住她的手,说道,“露丝,我亲爱的露丝。多少年了——多少年来——我一直爱着你,向往着功成名就以后荣归故里,再告诉你,一切都仅仅是为了与你分享才去追求的——我做了一个又一个白日梦,幻想着在那个欢乐的时刻,我怎样才能使你回想起,我曾经用了那么多不会说话的象征来表达一个孩子的眷恋,我要向你求婚,以此取代我们之间以往的默契。那个时刻还没有到来,可现在,功名尚未成就,青年时代的幻想也尚未实现,我还是要向你呈献这一颗早就属于你的心,将自己的一切都寄托在你用来回答我的请求的一句话上。”

“你的品行一直很善良,高尚,”露丝竭力控制着激动不已的感情,说道,“既然你相信我并非麻木不仁或者忘恩负义的人,那就请听我的回答。”

“你的回答是,我可以努力争取配得上你,是吗,亲爱的露丝?”

“我的回答是,”露丝答道,“你必须尽力忘掉我,我不是要你忘掉我是你以前心心相印的同伴,因为那会深深地刺伤我的心,而是要忘掉我是你爱上的人。好好看一看这个世界吧,想一想那里有多少颗心,你都会因为赢得那样的心而感到骄傲的。当你产生了另一份爱情的时候,如果你愿意,可以向我吐露一二,我会做你最诚挚、最热心、最忠实的朋友。”

露丝说到这里顿了一下,用一只手捂住面孔,听任泪水夺眶而出,哈利依旧握着她的另一只手。

“你的理由呢,露丝,”他好容易才低声说出话来,“你作出这个决定的理由呢?”

“你有权知道理由,”露丝答道,“你不管怎么说也改变不了我的决心。这是我必须履行的一种义务。为我自己,也为了别人,我必须这样做。”

“为你自己?”

“是的,哈利。我只能这样,我,一个无依无靠又没有嫁妆的姑娘,只有一个不明不白的名声,我不应该让你的朋友有理由怀疑我是出于卑鄙的动机,才接受你的初恋,把自己变成一种累赘,强加在你所有的希望、计划之上。为了你,为了你的亲人,我有义务阻止你凭着慷慨天性中的那份热情办事,为你的前途设置这样一个巨大的障碍。”

“如果你的心意和你的责任感是一致的话——”哈利又开始了。

“并不一致。”露丝的脸涨得通红。

“那你也是爱我的?”哈利说,“我只要你说这句话,亲爱的露丝,只要你说这句话,解一解这个失望的苦果。”

“要是我能够做到,又不至于使我所爱的人深受其害的话,”露丝回答道,“我本来——”

“就会以完全不同的态度接受我的心里话?”哈利说道,“至少,露丝,别对我隐瞒这一点。”

“我会的,”露丝说,“等等。”她把那只手抽出来,“我们干吗要让这一次痛苦的谈话继续下去呢?这次谈话对于我是极为痛苦的,但同时也会产生永久的幸福。知道我曾经在你的心目中占据了我现在这样的崇高位置,你在生活中取得的每一个胜利都将赋予我新的毅力,使我变得更加坚定,这就是幸福。再见了,哈利。我们以后见面再也不会像今天这样了。但我们可以保持另外一种关系,不是像今天的谈话会使我们结成的那种关系,我们彼此都会感到非常幸福。有一颗真挚热切的心在为你祈祷,愿一切真心、坦诚的源泉降下每一声祝福,为你带来欢乐和成功。”

“让我再说一句,露丝,”哈利说道,“用你自己的话讲讲理由,让我听一听从你口中说出来的理由。”

“你的前程十分辉煌,”露丝坚定地回答,“一切荣誉,凡是凭着卓越的才干和有势力的亲戚能够在社会上取得的荣华富贵都在等着你。但那些亲戚是很高傲的,我既不愿意和可能瞧不起我的生身母亲的人周旋,也不愿意为代替我母亲位置的那个人的儿子带来屈辱或挫折,一句话,”少女说着,转过脸去,她一时的坚定已经开始动摇,“我的名字上有一个污点,而世人却要用来殃及无辜。我绝不会让别人代我受过,责难统统由我一个人来承担。”

“还有一句话,露丝,可亲可爱的露丝啊!还有一句!”哈利高声嚷着,冲到她的面前,“要是我不那么——不那么走运,世人就是这样说的——要是我命中注定要过一种淡泊宁静的生活——要是我很穷,又有病,又无依无靠的话——你也会拒绝我吗?还是因为我将来有可能享尽荣华富贵就一定会对出生斤斤计较?”

“别逼我回答,”露丝答道,“这个问题现在不存在,永远也不存在。强人所难是不公平的,就更别提善意了。”

“如果你的答复和我几乎敢于期望的回答相符,”哈利反驳道,“它就将在我孤独的行程上撒下一道幸福的光彩,照亮我面前的道路。你简简单单说几句,对于一个爱你超过一切的人来说却是至关重要的,这不是一件可有可无的事。哦,露丝!看在我灼热而持久的爱慕分上,看在我已经为你承受的以及你一定要我承受的一切痛苦的分上,答复我这一个问题吧!”

“那么,假如你的命运另有安排,”露丝答道,“假如你的地位只是略微高出我一点,而不是远远超过我——如果在任何悠闲淡泊的贫贱生活中,我都能帮助你,安慰你,而不是在一帮雄心勃勃的名流当中成为你的一个污点,一块绊脚石——我也无须经受这一磨难。我现在就完全有理由感到幸福,极大的幸福。可另一方面,哈利,我承认,我本来应该得到更大的幸福。”

露丝倾吐着这一番衷情,很久以前,当她还是一个小姑娘的时候就把昔日的一些心愿珍藏在心底,此刻,这些夙愿随着记忆纷纷涌上心头,如同重温凋零的愿望不免会引出泪水一样,眼泪也为她带来了宽慰。

“这种软弱我没法克制,但它总是使我的心意变得更加坚定,”露丝伸出手来,说道,“现在我必须离开你了,真的。”

“我求你答应一件事,”哈利说,“再谈一次,仅仅再谈一次——不超过一年,但也可能大大提前——请允许我还可以就这个主题和你最后谈一次。”

“不要强迫我改变我的正确决定,”露丝带着一丝忧郁的笑意,回答道,“这没有什么好处。”

“不,”哈利说道,“我要听你重新说一遍,如果你愿意——最后重复一遍。不管我今后取得何种地位或者财富,我要把它们统统放在你的脚下。要是你仍然坚持你现在的决定,我决不试图用言语或行动去加以改变。”

“就这样吧,”露丝回答,“那只会多一次痛苦,到那个时候,我或许更能够经受得起了。”

她再一次伸出手去,可小伙子却把她搂进怀里,在她那清秀的额头上吻了一下,匆匆走出了房间。