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Title: A Modern Mephistopheles and A Whisper in the Dark
Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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University of Toronto - Robarts Library and the Online
                           Transcriber Notes

 ● Obvious typos and punctuation errors corrected.
 ● Inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation retained.
 ● Italics are represented by underscores surrounding the _italic text_.
 ● Small capitals have been converted to ALL CAPS.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        A MODERN MEPHISTOPHELES

                                  AND

                         A WHISPER IN THE DARK

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       LOUISA M. ALCOTT’S NOVELS.

      MOODS.

      WORK, a Story of Experience.

      A MODERN MEPHISTOPHELES, and A WHISPER IN THE DARK.

                       3 vols. 16mo. $1.50 each.


                     ROBERTS BROTHERS, Publishers,
                                BOSTON.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   A

                         MODERN MEPHISTOPHELES

                                  AND

                         A WHISPER IN THE DARK

                          BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT

           AUTHOR OF “MOODS;” “WORK, A STORY OF EXPERIENCE;”
                          “LITTLE WOMEN,” ETC.

                    [Illustration: QUI LEGIT REGIT.]

                                 BOSTON
                            ROBERTS BROTHERS
                                  1889

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        _Copyright, 1877, 1889_
                          BY ROBERTS BROTHERS


                            University Press
                     JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       “_The Indescribable,
                         Here it is done:
                       The Woman-Soul leadeth us
                         Upward and on!_”

                           Second Part of FAUST.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        A MODERN MEPHISTOPHELES.



                                   I.


Without, a midwinter twilight, where wandering snowflakes eddied in the
bitter wind between a leaden sky and frost-bound earth.

Within, a garret; gloomy, bare, and cold as the bleak night coming down.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A haggard youth knelt before a little furnace, kindling a fire, with an
expression of quiet desperation on his face, which made the simple
operation strange and solemn.

A pile of manuscript lay beside him, and in the hollow eyes that watched
the white leaves burn was a tragic shadow, terrible to see,—for he was
offering the first-born of heart and brain as sacrifice to a hard fate.

Slowly the charcoal caught and kindled, while a light smoke filled the
room. Slowly the youth staggered up, and, gathering the torn sheets,
thrust them into his bosom, muttering bitterly, “Of all my hopes and
dreams, my weary work and patient waiting, nothing is left but this.
Poor little book, we’ll go together, and leave no trace behind.”

Throwing himself into a chair, he laid his head down upon the table,
where no food had been for days, and, closing his eyes, waited in stern
silence for death to come and take him.

Nothing broke the stillness but the soft crackle of the fire, which
began to flicker with blue tongues of flame, and cast a lurid glow upon
the motionless figure with its hidden face. Deeper grew the wintry gloom
without, ruddier shone the fateful gleam within, and heavy breaths began
to heave the breast so tired of life.

Suddenly a step sounded on the stair, a hand knocked at the door, and
when no answer came, a voice cried, “Open!” in a commanding tone, which
won instant obedience, and dispelled the deathful trance fast benumbing
every sense.

“The devil!” ejaculated the same imperious voice, as the door swung
open, letting a cloud of noxious vapor rush out to greet the
new-comer,—a man standing tall and dark against the outer gloom.

“Who is it? Oh! come in!” gasped the youth, falling back faint and
dizzy, as the fresh air smote him in the face.

“I cannot, till you make it safe for me to enter. I beg pardon if I
interrupt your suicide; I came to help you live, but if you prefer the
other thing, say so, and I will take myself away again,” said the
stranger, pausing on the threshold, as his quick eye took in the meaning
of the scene before him.

“For God’s sake, stay!” and, rushing to the window, the youth broke it
with a blow, caught up the furnace, and set it out upon the snowy roof,
where it hissed and glowed like an evil thing, while he dragged forth
his one chair, and waited, trembling, for his unknown guest to enter.

“For my own sake, rather: I want excitement; and this looks as if I
might find it here,” muttered the man with a short laugh, as he watched
the boy, calmly curious, till a gust of fresh air swept through the
room, making him shiver with its sharp breath.

“Jasper Helwyze, at your service,” he added aloud, stepping in, and
accepting courteously the only hospitality his poor young host could
offer.

The dim light and shrouding cloak showed nothing but a pale, keen face,
with dark penetrating eyes, and a thin hand, holding a paper on which
the youth recognized the familiar words, “Felix Canaris.”

“My name! You came to help me? What good angel sent you, sir?” he
exclaimed, with a thrill of hope,—for in the voice, the eye, the hand
that held the card with such tenacious touch, he saw and felt the
influence of a stronger nature, and involuntarily believed in and clung
to it.

“Your bad angel, you might say, since it was the man who damned your
book and refused the aid you asked of him,” returned the stranger, in a
suave tone, which contrasted curiously with the vigor of his language.
“A mere chance led me there to-day, and my eye fell upon a letter lying
open before him. The peculiar hand attracted me, and Forsythe, being in
the midst of your farewell denunciation, read it out, and told your
story.”

“And you were laughing at my misery while I was making ready to end it?”
said the youth, with a scornful quiver of the sensitive lips that
uttered the reproach.

“We all laugh at such passionate folly when we have outlived it. You
will, a year hence; so bear no malice, but tell me briefly if you can
forget poetry, and be content with prose for a time. In plain words, can
you work instead of dream?”

“I can.”

“Good! then come to me for a month. I have been long from home, and my
library is neglected; I have much for you to do, and believe you are the
person I want, if Forsythe tells the truth. He says your father was a
Greek, your mother English, both dead, and you an accomplished,
ambitious young man who thinks himself a genius, and will not forgive
the world for doubting what he has failed to prove. Am I right?”

“Quite right. Add also that I am friendless, penniless, and hopeless at
nineteen.”

A brief, pathetic story, more eloquently told by the starvation written
on the pinched face, the squalor of the scanty garments, and the despair
in the desperate eye, than by the words uttered with almost defiant
bluntness.

The stranger read the little tragedy at a glance, and found the chief
actor to his taste; for despite his hard case he possessed beauty,
youth, and the high aspirations that die hard,—three gifts often
peculiarly attractive to those who have lost them all.

“Wait a month, and you may find that you have earned friends, money, and
the right to hope again. At nineteen, one should have courage to face
the world, and master it.”

“Show me how, and I _will_ have courage. A word of sympathy has already
made it possible to live!” and, seizing the hand that offered help,
Canaris kissed it with the impulsive grace and ardor of his father’s
race.

“When can you come to me?” briefly demanded Helwyze, gathering his cloak
about him as he rose, warned by the waning light.

“At once, to-night, if you will! I possess nothing in the world but the
poor clothes that were to have been my shroud, and the relics of the
book with which I kindled my last fire,” answered the youth, with eager
eyes, and an involuntary shiver as the bitter wind blew in from the
broken window.

“Come, then, else a mightier master than I may claim you before dawn,
for it will be an awful night. Put out your funeral pyre, Canaris, wrap
your shroud well about you, gather up your relics, and follow me. I can
at least give you a warmer welcome than I have received,” added Helwyze,
with that sardonic laugh of his, as he left the room.

Before he had groped his slow way down the long stairs the youth joined
him, and side by side they went out into the night.

A month later the same pair sat together in a room that was a dream of
luxury. A noble library, secluded, warm, and still; the reposeful
atmosphere that students love pervaded it; rare books lined its lofty
walls: poets and philosophers looked down upon their work with immortal
satisfaction on their marble countenances; and the two living occupants
well became their sumptuous surroundings.

Helwyze leaned in a great chair beside a table strewn with books which
curiously betrayed the bent of a strong mind made morbid by physical
suffering. Doré’s “Dante” spread its awful pages before him; the old
Greek tragedies were scattered about, and Goethe’s “Faust” was in his
hand. An unimpressive figure at first sight, this frail-looking man,
whose age it would be hard to tell; for pain plays strange pranks, and
sometimes preserves to manhood a youthful delicacy in return for the
vigor it destroys. But at a second glance the eye was arrested and
interest aroused, for an indefinable expression of power pervaded the
whole face, beardless, thin-lipped, sharply cut, and colorless as ivory.
A stray lock or two of dark hair streaked the high brow, and below shone
the controlling feature of this singular countenance, a pair of eyes,
intensely black, and so large they seemed to burden the thin face.
Violet shadows encircled them, telling of sleepless nights, days of
languor, and long years of suffering, borne with stern patience. But in
the eyes themselves all the vitality of the man’s indomitable spirit
seemed concentrated, intense and brilliant as a flame, which nothing
could quench. By turns melancholy, meditative, piercing, or
contemptuous, they varied in expression with startling rapidity, unless
mastered by an art stronger than nature; attracting or repelling with a
magnetism few wills could resist.

Propping his great forehead on his hand, he read, motionless as a
statue, till a restless movement made him glance up at his companion,
and fall to studying him with a silent scrutiny which in another would
have softened to admiration, for Canaris was scarcely less beautiful
than the Narcissus in the niche behind him.

An utter contrast to his patron, for youth lent its vigor to the
well-knit frame, every limb of which was so perfectly proportioned that
strength and grace were most harmoniously blended. Health glowed in the
rich coloring of the classically moulded face, and lurked in the
luxuriant locks which clustered in glossy rings from the low brow to the
white throat. Happiness shone in the large dreamy eyes and smiled on the
voluptuous lips; while an indescribable expression of fire and force
pervaded the whole, redeeming its beauty from effeminacy.

A gracious miracle had been wrought in that month, for the haggard youth
was changed into a wonderfully attractive young man, whose natural ease
and elegance fitted him to adorn that charming place, as well as to
enjoy the luxury his pleasure-loving senses craved.

The pen had fallen from his hand, and lying back in his chair with eyes
fixed on vacancy, he seemed dreaming dreams born of the unexpected
prosperity which grew more precious with each hour of its possession.

“Youth surely _is_ the beauty of the devil, and that boy might have come
straight from the witches’ kitchen and the magic draught,” thought
Helwyze, as he closed his book, adding to himself with a daring
expression, “Of all the visions haunting his ambitious brain not one is
so wild and wayward as the fancy which haunts mine. Why not play fate,
and finish what I have begun?”

A pause fell, more momentous than either dreamed; then it was abruptly
broken.

“Felix, the time is up.”

“It is, sir. Am I to go or stay?” and Canaris rose, looking
half-bewildered as his brilliant castles in the air dissolved like mist
before a sudden gust.

“Stay, if you will; but it is a quiet life for such as you, and I am a
dull companion. Could you bear it for a year?”

“For twenty! Sir, you have been most kind and generous, and this month
has seemed like heaven, after the bitter want you took me from. Let me
show gratitude by faithful service, if I can,” exclaimed the young man,
coming to stand before his master, as he chose to call his benefactor,
for favors were no burden yet.

“No thanks, I do it for my own pleasure. It is not every one who can
have antique beauty in flesh and blood as well as marble; I have a fancy
to keep my handsome secretary as the one ornament my library lacked
before.”

Canaris reddened like a girl, and gave a disdainful shrug; but vanity
was tickled, nevertheless, and he betrayed it by the sidelong glance he
stole towards the polished doors of glass reflecting his figure like a
mirror.

“Nay, never frown and blush, man; ‘beauty is its own excuse for being,’
and you may thank the gods for yours, since but for that I should send
you away to fight your dragons single-handed,” said Helwyze, with a
covert smile, adding, as he leaned forward to read the face which could
wear no mask for him, “Come, you shall give me a year of your liberty,
and I will help you to prove Forsythe a liar.”

“You will bring out my book?” cried Canaris, clasping his hands as a
flash of joy irradiated every lineament.

“Why not? and satisfy the hunger that torments you, though you try to
hide it. I cannot promise success, but I _can_ promise a fair trial; and
if you stand the test, fame and fortune will come together. Love and
happiness you can seek for at your own good pleasure.”

“You have divined my longing. I do hunger and thirst for fame; I dream
of it by night, I sigh for it by day; every thought and aspiration
centres in that desire; and if I did not still cling to that hope, even
the perfect home you offer me would seem a prison. I _must_ have it; the
success men covet and admire, suffer and strive for, and die content if
they win it only for a little time. Give me this and I am yours, body
and soul; I have nothing else to offer.”

Canaris spoke with passionate energy, and flung out his hand as if he
cast himself at the other’s feet, a thing of little worth compared to
the tempting prize for which he lusted.

Helwyze took the hand in a light, cold clasp, that tightened slowly as
he answered with the look of one before whose will all obstacles go
down,—

“Done! Now show me the book, and let us see if we cannot win this time.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  II.


Nothing stirred about the vine-clad villa, except the curtains swaying
in the balmy wind, that blew up from a garden where mid-summer warmth
brooded over drowsy flowers and whispering trees. The lake below gleamed
like a mirror garlanded about with water-lilies, opening their white
bosoms to the sun. The balcony above burned with deep-hearted roses
pouring out their passionate perfume, as if in rivalry of the purple
heliotrope, which overflowed great urns on either side of the stone
steps.

Nothing broke the silence but the breezy rustle, the murmurous lapse of
waters upon a quiet shore, and now and then the brief carol of a bird
waking from its noontide sleep. A hammock swung at one end of the
balcony, but it was empty; open doors showed the wide hall tenanted only
by statues gleaming, cool and coy, in shadowy nooks; and the spirit of
repose seemed to haunt the lovely spot.

For an hour the sweet spell lasted; then it was broken by the faint,
far-off warble of a woman’s voice, which seemed to wake the sleeping
palace into life; for, as if drawn by the music, a young man came
through the garden, looking as Ferdinand might, when Ariel led him to
Miranda.

Too beautiful for a man he was, and seemed to protest against it by a
disdainful negligence of all the arts which could enhance the gracious
gift. A picturesque carelessness marked his costume, the luxuriant curls
that covered his head were in riotous confusion; and as he came into the
light he stretched his limbs with the graceful abandon of a young
wood-god rousing from his drowse in some green covert.

Swinging a knot of lilies in his hand, he sauntered up the long path,
listening with a smile, for as the voice drew nearer he recognized both
song and singer.

“Little Gladys must not see me, or she will end her music too soon,” he
whispered to himself; and, stepping behind the great vase, he peered
between the plumy sprays to watch the coming of the voice that made his
verses doubly melodious to their creator’s ear.

Through the shadowy hall there came a slender creature in a quaint white
gown, who looked as if she might have stepped down from the marble
Hebe’s pedestal; for there was something wonderfully virginal and fresh
about the maidenly figure with its deep, soft eyes, pale hair, and
features clearly cut as a fine cameo. Emerging from the gloom into a
flood of sunshine, which touched her head with a glint of gold, and
brought out in strong relief the crimson cover of the book, held
half-closed against her breast, she came down the steps, still singing
softly to herself.

A butterfly was sunning its changeful wings on the carved balustrade,
and she paused to watch it, quite unconscious of the picture she made,
or the hidden observer who enjoyed it with the delight of one whose
senses were keenly alive to all that ministers to pleasure. A childish
act enough, but it contrasted curiously with the words she sung,—fervid
words, that seemed to drop lingeringly from her lips as if in a new
language; lovely, yet half learned.

“Pretty thing! I wish I could sketch her as she stands, and use her as
an illustration to that song. No nightingale ever had a sweeter voice
for a love-lay than this charming girl,” thought the flattered listener,
as, obeying a sudden impulse, he flung up the lilies, stepped out from
his ambush, and half-said, half-sung, as he looked up with a glance of
mirthful meaning,—

                    “Like a high-born maiden
                      In a palace tower,
                    Soothing her love-laden
                      Soul in secret hour,
          With music sweet as love which overflows her bower.”

The flowers dropped at her feet, and, leaning forward with the supple
grace of girlhood, she looked down to meet the dangerous dark eyes,
while her own seemed to wake and deepen with a sudden light as beautiful
as the color which dawned in her innocent face. Not the quick red of
shame, nor the glow of vanity, but a slow, soft flush like the shadow of
a rosy cloud on snow. No otherwise disconcerted, she smiled back at him,
and answered with unexpected aptness, in lines that were a truer
compliment than his had been,—

                      “Like a poet hidden
                        In the light of thought,
                      Singing hymns unbidden,
                        Till the world is wrought
            To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.”

It was this charm of swift and subtle sympathy which made the girl seem
sometimes like the embodied spirit of all that was most high and pure in
his own wayward but aspiring nature. And this the spell that drew him to
her now, glad to sun himself like the butterfly in the light of eyes so
clear and candid, that he could read therein the emotions of a maiden
heart just opening to its first, half-conscious love.

Springing up the steps, he said with the caressing air as native to him
as his grace of manner. “Sit here and weave a pretty garland for your
hair, while I thank you for making my poor verses beautiful. Where did
you find the air that fits those words so well?”

“It came itself; as the song did, I think,” she answered simply, as she
obeyed him, and began to braid the long brown stems, shaping a chaplet
fit for Undine.

“Ah! you will never guess how that came!” he said, sitting at her feet
to watch the small fingers at their pretty work. But though his eyes
rested there, they grew absent; and he seemed to fall into a reverie not
wholly pleasant, for he knit his brows as if the newly won laurel wreath
sat uneasily upon a head which seemed made to wear it.

Gladys watched him in reverential silence till he became conscious of
her presence again, and gave her leave to speak, with a smile which had
in it something of the condescension of an idol towards its devoutest
worshipper.

“Were you making poetry, then?” she asked, with the frank curiosity of a
child.

“No, I was wondering where I should be now if I had never made any;” and
he looked at the summer paradise around him with an involuntary shiver,
as if a chill wind had blown upon him.

“Think rather what you will write next. It is so lovely I want more,
although I do not understand all this,” touching the book upon her knee
with a regretful sigh.

“Neither do I; much of it is poor stuff, Gladys. Do not puzzle your
sweet wits over it.”

“That is because you are so modest. People say true genius is always
humble.”

“Then, I am not a true genius; for I am as proud as Lucifer.”

“You may well be proud of such work as this;” and she carefully brushed
a fallen petal from the silken cover.

“But I am _not_ proud of that. At times I almost hate it!” exclaimed the
capricious poet, impetuously, then checked himself, and added more
composedly, “I mean to do so much better, that this first attempt shall
be forgotten.”

“I think you will never do better; for this came from your heart,
without a thought of what the world would say. Hereafter all you write
may be more perfect in form but less true in spirit, because you will
have the fear of the world, and loss of fame before your eyes.”

“How can you know that?” he asked, wondering that this young girl, so
lately met, should read him so well, and touch a secret doubt that kept
him idle after the first essay, which had been a most flattering
success.

“Nay, I do not know, I only feel as if it must be so. I always sing best
when alone, and the thought of doing it for praise or money spoils the
music to my ear.”

“I feel as if it would be possible to do _any thing_ here, and forget
that there is a world outside.”

“Then it is not dull to you? I am glad, for I thought it would be,
because so many people want you, and you might choose many gayer places
in which to spend your summer holiday.”

“I have no choice in this; yet I was willing enough to come. The first
time is always pleasant, and I am tired of the gayer places,” he said,
with a _blasé_ air that ill concealed how sweet the taste of praise had
been to one who hungered for it.

“Yet it must seem very beautiful to be so sought, admired, and loved,”
the girl said wistfully, for few of fortune’s favors had fallen into her
lap as yet.

“It is, and I was intoxicated with the wine of success for a time. But
after all, I find a bitter drop in it, for there is always a higher step
to take, a brighter prize to win, and one is never satisfied.”

He paused an instant with the craving yet despondent look poets and
painters wear as they labor for perfection in “a divine despair;” then
added, in a tone of kindly satisfaction which rung true on the sensitive
ear that listened,—

“But all that nonsense pleases Helwyze, and he has so few delights, I
would not rob him of one even so small as this, for I owe every thing to
him, you know.”

“I do not know. May I?”

“You may; for I want you to like my friend, and now I think you only
fear him.”

“Mr. Canaris, I do not dislike your friend. He has been most kind to me,
I am grieved if I seem ungrateful,” murmured Gladys, with a vague
trouble in her artless face, for she had no power to explain the
instinctive recoil which had unconsciously betrayed itself.

“Hear what he did for me, and then it may be easier to show as well as
to feel gratitude; since but for him you would have had none of these
foolish rhymes to sing.”

With a look askance, a quick gesture, and a curious laugh, Canaris
tossed the book into the urn below, and the heliotrope gave a fragrant
sigh as it closed above the treasure given to its keeping. Gladys
uttered a little cry, but her companion took no heed, for clasping his
hands about his knee he looked off into the bloomy wilderness below as
if he saw a younger self there, and spoke of him with a pitiful sort of
interest.

“Three years ago an ambitious boy came to seek his fortune in the great
city yonder. He possessed nothing but sundry accomplishments, and a
handful of verses which he tried to sell. Failing in this hope after
various trials, he grew desperate, and thought to end his life like poor
Chatterton. No, not like Chatterton,—for this boy was not an impostor.”

“Had he no friend anywhere?” asked Gladys,—her work neglected while she
listened with intensest interest to the tale so tragically begun.

“He thought not, but chance sent him one at the last hour, and when he
called on death, Helwyze came. It always seemed to me as if,
unwittingly, I conjured from the fire kindled to destroy myself a genie
who had power to change me from the miserable wretch I was, into the
happy man I am. For more than a year I have been with him,—first as
secretary, then _protégé_, now friend, almost son; for he asks nothing
of me except such services as I love to render, and gives me every aid
towards winning my way. Is not that magnificent generosity? Can I help
regarding him with superstitious gratitude? Am I not rightly named
Felix?”

“Yes, oh yes! Tell me more, please. I have led such a lonely life, that
human beings are like wonder-books to me, and I am never tired of
reading them.” Gladys looked with a rapt expression into the face
upturned to hers, little dreaming how dangerous such lore might be to
her.

“Then you should read Helwyze; he is a romance that will both charm and
make your heart ache, if you dare to try him.”

“I dare, if I may, because I would so gladly lose my fear of him in the
gentler feeling that grows in me as I listen.”

Canaris was irresistibly led on to confidences he had no right to make,
it was so pleasant to feel that he had the power to move the girl by his
words, as the wind sways a leaf upon its delicate stem. A half-fledged
purpose lurked in a dark corner of his mind, and even while denying its
existence to himself, he yielded to its influence, careless of
consequences.

“Then I will go on and let compassion finish what I have begun. Till
thirty, Helwyze led a wonderfully free, rich life, I infer from hints
dropped in unguarded moments,—for confidential moods are rare. Every
good gift was his, and nothing to alloy his happiness, unless it was the
restless nature which kept him wandering like an Arab long after most
men have found some ambition to absorb, or some tie to restrain, them.
From what I have gathered, I know that a great passion was beginning to
tame his unquiet spirit, when a great misfortune came to afflict it, and
in an hour changed a life of entire freedom to one of the bitterest
bondage such a man can know.”

“Oh, what?” cried Gladys, as he artfully paused just there to see her
bend nearer, and her lips part with the tremor of suspense.

“A terrible fall; and for ten years he has never known a day’s rest from
pain of some sort, and never will, till death releases him ten years
hence, perhaps, if his indomitable will keeps him alive so long.”

“Alas, alas! is there no cure?” sighed Gladys, as the violet eyes grew
dim for very pity of so hard a fate.

“None.”

A brief silence followed while the shadow of a great white cloud drifted
across the sky, blotting out the sunshine for a moment.

All the flowers strayed down upon the steps and lay there forgotten, as
the hands that held them were clasped together on the girl’s breast, as
if the mere knowledge of a lot like this lay heavy at her heart.

Satisfied with his effect, the story-teller was tempted to add another
stroke, and went on with the fluency of one who saw all things
dramatically, and could not help coloring them in his own vivid fancy.

“That seems very terrible to you, but in truth the physical affliction
was not so great as the loss that tried his soul; for he loved ardently,
and had just won his suit, when the misfortune came which tied him to a
bed of torment for some years. A fall from heaven to hell could hardly
have seemed worse than to be precipitated from the heights of such a
happiness to the depths of such a double woe; for she, the beautiful,
beloved woman proved disloyal, and left him lying there, like
Prometheus, with the vulture of remembered bliss to rend his heart.”

“Could he not forget her?” and Gladys trembled with indignation at the
perfidy which seemed impossible to a nature born for self-sacrifice.

“He never will forget or forgive, although the man she married well
avenged him while he lived, and bequeathed her a memory which all his
gold could not gild. _Her_ fate is the harder now; for the old love has
revived, and Helwyze is dearer than in his days of unmarred strength. He
knows it, but will not accept the tardy atonement; for contempt has
killed _his_ love, and with him there is no resurrection of the dead. A
very patient and remorseful love is hers: for she has been humiliated in
spirit, as he can never be, by the bodily ills above which he has risen
so heroically that his courage has subdued the haughtiest woman I ever
met.”

“You know her, then?” and Gladys bent to look into his face, with her
own shadowed by an intuition of the truth.

“Yes.”

“I am afraid to listen any more. It is terrible to know that such
bitterness and grief lie hidden in the hearts about me. Why did you tell
me this?” she demanded, shrinking from him, as if some prophetic fear
had stepped between them.

“Why did I? Because I wished to make you pity my friend, and help me put
a little brightness into his hard life. You can do it if you will, for
you soothe and please him, and few possess the power to give him any
comfort. He makes no complaint, asks no pity, and insists on ignoring
the pain which preys upon him, till it grows too great to be concealed;
then shuts himself up alone, to endure it like a Spartan. Forgive me if
in my eagerness I have said too much, and forget whatever troubled you.”

Canaris spoke with genuine regret, and hoped to banish the cloud from a
face which had been as placid as the lake below, till he disturbed it by
reflections that affrighted her.

“It is easy to forgive, but not to forget, words which cannot be unsaid.
I was so happy here; and now it is all spoilt. She was a new-made
friend, and very kind to me when I was desolate. I shall seem a
thankless beggar if I go away before I have paid my debt as best I can.
How shall I tell her that I must?”

“Of whom do you speak? I gave no name. I thought you would not guess.
Why must you go, Gladys?” asked the young man, surprised to see how
quickly she felt the chill of doubt, and tried to escape obligation,
when neither love nor respect brightened it.

“I need give no name, because you know. It is as well, perhaps, that I
have guessed it. I ought not to have been so content, since I am here
through charity. I must take up my life and try to shape it for myself;
but the world seems very large now I am all alone.”

She spoke half to herself, and looked beyond the safe, secluded garden,
to the gray mountains whose rough paths her feet had trod before they
were led here to rest.

Quick to be swayed by the varying impulses which ruled him with
capricious force, Canaris was now full of pity for the trouble he had
wrought, and when she rose, like a bird startled from its nest, he rose
also, and, taking the hand put out as if involuntarily asking help, he
said with regretful gentleness,—

“Do not be afraid, we will befriend you. Helwyze shall counsel and I
will comfort, if we can. I should not have told that dismal story; I
will atone for it by a new song, and you shall grow happy in singing
it.”

She hesitated, withdrew her hand, and looked askance at him, as if one
doubt bred others. An approaching footstep made her start, and stand a
moment with head erect, eye fixed, and ear intent, like a listening
deer, then whispering, “It is she; hide me till I learn to look as if I
did not know!”—Gladys sprung down the steps, and vanished like a wraith,
leaving no token of her presence but the lilies in the dust, for the
young man followed fleetly.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  III.


A woman came into the balcony with a swift step, and paused there, as if
disappointed to find it deserted. A woman in the midsummer of her life,
brilliant, strong, and stately; clad in something dusky and diaphanous,
unrelieved by any color, except the pale gold of the laburnum clusters,
that drooped from deep bosom and darkest hair. Pride sat on the
forehead, with its straight black brows, passion slept in the Southern
eyes, lustrous or languid by turns, and will curved the closely folded
lips of vivid red.

But over all this beauty, energy, and grace an indescribable blight
seemed to have fallen, deeper than the loss of youth’s first freshness,
darker than the trace of any common sorrow. Something felt, rather than
seen, which gave her the air of a dethroned queen; conquered, but
protesting fiercely, even while forced to submit to some inexorable
decree, whose bitterest pang was the knowledge that the wrong was
self-inflicted.

As she stood there, looking down the green vista, two figures crossed
it. A smile curved the sad mouth, and she said aloud, “Faust and
Margaret, playing the old, old game.”

“And Mephistopheles and Martha looking on,” added a melodious voice,
behind her, as Helwyze swept back the half-transparent curtain from the
long window where he sat.

“The part you give me is not a flattering one,” she answered, veiling
mingled pique and pleasure with well-feigned indifference.

“Nor mine; yet I think they suit us both, in a measure. Do you know,
Olivia, that the accidental reading of my favorite tragedy, at a certain
moment, gave me a hint which has afforded amusement for a year.”

“You mean your fancy for playing Mentor to that boy. A dangerous task
for you, Jasper.”

“The danger is the charm. I crave excitement, occupation; and what but
something of this sort is left me? Much saving grace in charity, we are
told; and who needs it more than I? Surely I have been kinder to Felix
than the Providence which left him to die of destitution and despair?”

“Perhaps not. The love of power is strong in men like you, and grows by
what it feeds on. If I am not mistaken, this whim of a moment has
already hardened into a purpose which will mould his life in spite of
him. It is an occupation that suits your taste, for you enjoy his beauty
and his promise; you like to praise and pamper him till vanity and love
of pleasure wax strong, then you check him with an equal satisfaction,
and find excitement in curbing his high spirit, his wayward will. By
what tie you hold him I cannot tell; but I know it must be something
stronger than gratitude, for, though he chafes against the bond, he
_dares_ not break it.”

“Ah, that is my secret! What would you not give if I would teach you the
art of taming men as I once taught you to train a restive horse?”—and
Helwyze looked out at her with eyes full of malicious merriment.

“You have taught me the art of taming a woman; is not that enough?”
murmured Olivia, in a tone that would have touched any man’s heart with
pity, if with no tenderer emotion.

But Helwyze seemed not to hear the reproach, and went on, as if the
other topic suited his mood best.

“I call Canaris my Greek slave, sometimes, and he never knows whether to
feel flattered or insulted. His father was a Greek adventurer, you know
(ended tragically, I suspect), and but for the English mother’s legacy
of a trifle of moral sense, Felix would be as satisfactory a young
heathen as if brought straight from ancient Athens. It was this peculiar
mixture of unscrupulous daring and fitful virtue which attracted me, as
much as his unusual beauty and undoubted talent. Money can buy almost
any thing, you know; so I bought my handsome Alcibiades, and an
excellent bargain I find him.”

“But when you tire of him, what then? You cannot sell him again, nor
throw him away, like a book you weary of. Neither can you leave him
neglected in the lumber-room, with distasteful statues or bad pictures.
Affection, if you have it, will not outlast your admiration, and I have
much curiosity to know what will become of your ‘handsome Alcibiades’
then.”

“Then, my cousin, I will give him to you, for I have fancied of late
that you rather coveted him. You could not manage him now,—the savage in
him is not quite civilized yet,—but wait a little, and I will make a
charming plaything for you. I know you will treat him kindly, since it
is truly said, Those who have served, best know how to rule.”

The sneer stung her deeply, for there was no humiliation this proud
woman had not suffered at the hands of a brutal and unfaithful husband.
Pity was as bitter a draught to her as to the man who thus cruelly
reminded her of the long bondage which had left an ineffaceable blight
upon her life. The wound bled inwardly, but she retaliated, as only such
a woman could.

“Love is the one master who can rule and bind without danger or
disgrace. I shall remember that, and when you give me Felix he will find
me a gentler mistress than I was ten years ago—to you.”

The last words dropped from her lips as softly as if full of tender
reminiscence, but they pricked pride, since they could not touch a
relentless heart. Helwyze betrayed it by the sombre fire of his eye, the
tone in which he answered.

“And I will ask of you the only gift I care to accept,—your new
_protégée_, Gladys. Tell me where you found her; the child interests me
much.”

“I know it;” and, stifling a pang of jealous pain, Olivia obeyed with
the docility of one in whom will was conquered by a stronger power.

“A freak took me to the hills in March. My winter had been a vain chase
after happiness, and I wanted solitude. I found it where chance led
me,—in this girl’s home. A poor, bleak place enough; but it suited me,
for there were only the father and daughter, and they left me to myself.
The man died suddenly, and no one mourned, for he was a selfish tyrant.
The girl was left quite alone, and nearly penniless, but so happy in her
freedom that she had no fears. I liked the courage of the creature; I
knew how she felt; I saw great capacity for something fine in her. I
said, ‘Come with me for a little, and time will show you the next step.’
She came; time has shown her, and the next step will take her from my
house to yours, unless I much mistake your purpose.”

Leaning in the low, lounging chair, Helwyze had listened motionless,
except that the fingers of one thin hand moved fitfully, as if he played
upon some instrument inaudible to all ears but his own. A frequent
gesture of his, and most significant, to any one who knew that his
favorite pastime was touching human heart-strings with marvellous
success in producing discords by his uncanny skill.

As Olivia paused, he asked in a voice as suave as cold,—

“My purpose? Have I any?”

“You say she interests you, and you watch her in a way that proves it.
Have you not already resolved to win her for your amusement, by some
bribe as cunning as that you gave Canaris for his liberty?”

“I have. You are a shrewd woman, Olivia.”

“Yet she is not beautiful;” and her eye vainly searched the inscrutable
countenance, that showed so passionless and pale against the purple
cushion where it leaned.

“Pardon me, the loveliest woman I have seen for years. A beautiful,
fresh soul is most attractive when one is weary of more material charms.
This girl seems made of spirit, fire, and dew; a mixture rare as it is
exquisite, and the spell is all the greater because of its fine and
elusive quality. I promise myself much satisfaction in observing how
this young creature meets the trials and temptations life and love will
bring her; and to do this she must be near at hand.”

“Happy Gladys!”

Olivia smiled a scornful smile, but folded her arms to curb the
rebellious swelling of her heart at the thought of another woman nearer
than herself. She turned away as she spoke; but Helwyze saw the quiver
of her lips, and read the meaning of the piercing glance she shot into
the garden, as if to find and annihilate that unconscious rival.

Content for the moment with the touch of daily torture which was the
atonement exacted for past disloyalty, he lifted the poor soul from
despair to delight by the utterance of three words, accompanied by a
laugh as mirthless as musical,—

“Happy Felix, rather.”

“Is _he_ to marry her?” and Olivia fronted him, glowing with a sudden
joy which made her lovely as well as brilliant.

“Who else?”

“Yourself.”

“I!” and the word was full of a bitterness which thrilled every nerve
the woman had, for an irrepressible regret wrung it from lips sternly
shut on all complaint, except to her.

“Why not?” she cried, daring to answer with impetuous warmth and candor.
“What woman would not be glad to serve you for the sake of the luxury
with which you would surround her, if not for the love you might win and
give, if you chose?”

“Bah! what have I to do with love? Thank Heaven my passions are all
dead, else life would be a hell, not the purgatory it is,” he said,
glancing at his wasted limbs, with an expression which would have been
pathetic, had it not been defiant; for that long discipline of pain had
failed to conquer the spirit of the man, and it seemed to sit aloof,
viewing with a curious mixture of compassion and contempt the slow ruin
of the body which imprisoned it.

With an impulse womanly as winning, Olivia plucked a wine-dark rose from
the trellis nearest her, and, bending towards him, laid it in his hand,
with a look and gesture of one glad to give all she possessed, if that
were possible.

“Your love of beauty still survives, and is a solace to you. Let me
minister to it when I can; and be assured I offer my little friend as
freely as I do my choicest rose.”

“Thanks; the flower for me, the friend for Felix. Young as he is, he
knows how to woo, and she will listen to his love-tale as willingly as
she did to the highly colored romance he was telling her just now. You
would soon find her a burden, Olivia, and so should I, unless she came
in this way. We need do nothing but leave the young pair to summer and
seclusion; they will make the match better and more quickly than we
could. Then a month for the honeymoon business, and all can be
comfortably settled before October frosts set in.”

“You often say, where women are is discord; yet you are planning to
bring one into your house in the most dangerous way. Have you no fears,
Jasper?”

“Not of Gladys; she is so young, I can mould her as I please, and that
suits me. She will become my house well, this tender, transparent little
creature, with her tranquil eyes, and the sincere voice which makes
truth sweeter than falsehood. You must come and see her there; but never
try to alter her, or the charm will be destroyed.”

“You may be satisfied: but how will it be with Felix? Hitherto your sway
has been undivided, now you must share it; for with all her gentleness
she is strong, and will rule him.”

“And I, Gladys. Felix suits me excellently, and it will only add another
charm to the relation if I control him through the medium of another. My
young lion is discovering his power rapidly, and I must give him a Una
before he breaks loose and chooses for himself. If matters must be
complicated, I choose to do it, and it will occupy my winter pleasantly
to watch the success of this new combination.”

While he talked, Helwyze had been absently stripping leaf after leaf
from the great rose, till nothing but the golden heart remained
trembling on the thorny stem.

Olivia had watched the velvet petals fall one by one, feeling a sad
sympathy with the ill-used gift; yet, as the last leaf fluttered to the
ground, she involuntarily lifted up her hand to break another, glad if
even in the destruction of so frail a thing he could find a moment’s
pleasure.

“No, let them hang; their rich color pleases best among the green; their
cloying perfume is too heavy for the house. A snowdrop, leaning from its
dainty sheath undaunted by March winds, is more to my taste now,” he
said, dropping the relics of the rose, with the slow smile which often
lent such significance to a careless word.

“I cannot give you that: spring flowers are all gone long ago,” began
Olivia, regretfully.

“Nay, you give me one in Gladys; no spring flower could be more delicate
than she, gathered by your own hand from the bleak nook where you found
her. It is the faint, vernal fragrance of natures, coyly hidden from
common eye and touch, which satisfies and soothes senses refined by
suffering.”

“Yet you will destroy it, like the rose, in finding out the secret of
its life. I wondered why this pale, cold innocence was so attractive to
a man like you. There was a time when you would have laughed at such a
fancy, and craved something with more warmth and brilliancy.”

“I am wiser now, and live here, not here,” he answered, touching first
his forehead then his breast, with melancholy meaning. “While my brain
is spared me I can survive the ossification of all the heart I ever had,
since, at best, it is an unruly member. Almost as inconvenient as a
conscience; that, thank fortune, I never had. Yes; to study the
mysterious mechanism of human nature is a most absorbing pastime, when
books weary, and other sources of enjoyment are forbidden. Try it, and
see what an exciting game it becomes, when men and women are the pawns
you learn to move at will. Goethe’s boyish puppet-show was but a symbol
of the skill and power which made the man the magician he became.”

“An impious pastime, a dearly purchased fame, built on the broken hearts
of women!” exclaimed Olivia, walking to and fro with the noiseless step
and restless grace of a leopardess pacing its cage.

Helwyze neither seemed to see nor hear her, for his gloomy eyes stared
at a little bird tilting on a spray that swung in the freshening wind,
and his thoughts followed their own path.

“‘Pale, cold innocence.’ It _is_ curious that it should charm me. A good
sign, perhaps; for poets tell us that fallen angels sigh for the heaven
they have lost, and try to rise again on the wings of spirits stronger
and purer than themselves. Would they not find virtue insipid after a
fiery draught of sin? Did not Paradise seem a little dull to Dante, in
spite of Beatrice? I wish I knew.”

“Is it for this that you want the girl’s help?” asked Olivia, pausing in
her march to look at him. “I shall wait with interest to see if she
lifts you up to sainthood, or you drag her down to your level, where
intellect is God, conscience ignored, and love despised. Unhappy Gladys!
I should have said, because I cannot keep her from you, if I would; and
in your hands she will be as helpless as the dumb creatures surgeons
torture, that they may watch a living nerve, count the throbbing of an
artery, or see how long the poor things will live bereft of some vital
part. Let the child alone, Jasper, or you will repent of it.”

“Upon my word, Olivia, you are in an ominously prophetic mood. I hear a
carriage; and, as I am invisible to all eyes but your gifted ones,
pardon me if I unceremoniously leave the priestess on her tripod.”

And the curtain dropped between them as suddenly as it had been lifted,
depriving the woman of the one troubled joy of her life,—companionship
with him.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  IV.


“Felix, are you asleep?”

“No, sir, only resting.”

“Have you been at work?”

“Decidedly; I rowed across the lake and back.”

“Alone?”

“Gladys went with me, singing like a mermaid all the way.”

“Ah!”

Both men were lounging in the twilight; but there was a striking
difference in their way Of doing it. Canaris lay motionless on a couch,
his head pillowed on his arms, enjoying the luxury of repose, with the
_dolce far niente_ only possible to those in whose veins runs Southern
blood. Helwyze leaned in a great chair, which looked a miracle of
comfort; but its occupant stirred restlessly, as if he found no ease
among its swelling cushions; and there was an alert expression in his
face, betraying that the brain was at work on some thought or purpose
which both absorbed and excited.

A pause followed the brief dialogue, during which Canaris seemed to
relapse into his delicious drowse, while Helwyze sat looking at him with
the critical regard one bestows on a fine work of art. Yet something in
the spectacle of rest he could not share seemed to annoy him; for,
suddenly turning up the shaded lamp upon his table, he dispelled the
soft gloom, and broke the silence.

“I have a request to make. May I trouble you to listen?”

There was a tone of command in the courteously worded speech, which made
Canaris sit erect, with a respectful—

“At your service, sir.”

“I wish you to marry,” continued Helwyze, with such startling abruptness
that the young man gazed at him in mute amazement for a moment. Then,
veiling his surprise by a laugh, he asked lightly,—

“Isn’t it rather soon for that, sir? I am hardly of age.”

“Geniuses are privileged; and I am not aware of any obstacle, if _I_ am
satisfied,” answered Helwyze, with an imperious gesture, which seemed to
put aside all objections.

“Do you seriously mean it, sir?”

“I do.”

“But why such haste?”

“Because it is my pleasure.”

“I will not give up my liberty so soon,” cried the young man, with a
mutinous flash of the eye.

“I thought you had already given it up. If you choose to annul the
agreement, do it, and go. You know the forfeit.”

“I forgot this possibility. Did I agree to obey in all things?”

“It was so set down in the bond. Entire obedience in return for the
success you coveted. Have I failed in my part of the bargain?”

“No, sir; no.”

“Then do yours, or let us cancel the bond, and part.”

“How can we? What can I do without you? Is there no way but this?”

“None.”

Canaris looked dismayed,—and well he might, for it seemed impossible to
put away the cup he had thirsted for, when its first intoxicating
draught was at his lips.

Helwyze had spoken with peculiar emphasis, and his words were full of
ominous suggestion to the listener’s ear; for he alone knew how much
rebellion would cost him, since luxury and fame were still dearer than
liberty or honor. He sprung up, and paced the room, feeling like some
wild creature caught in a snare.

Helwyze, regardless of his chafing, went on calmly, as if to a willing
hearer, eying him vigilantly the while, though now his own manner was as
persuasive as it had been imperative before.

“I ask no more than many parents do, and will give you my reasons for
the demand, though that was not among the stipulations.”

“A starving man does not stop to weigh words, or haggle about promises.
I was desperate, and you offered me salvation; can you wonder that I
clutched the only hand held out to me?” demanded Canaris, with a world
of conflicting emotions in his expressive face, as he paused before his
master.

“I am not speaking of the first agreement, that was brief as simple. The
second bargain was a more complicated matter. You were not desperate
then; you freely entered into it, reaped the benefits of it, and now
wish to escape the consequences of your own act. Is that fair?”

“How could I dream that you would exact such obedience as this? I am too
young; it is a step that may change my whole life; I must have time,”
murmured Canaris, while a sudden change passed over his whole face, his
eye fell before the glance bent on him, as the other spoke.

“It need not change your life, except to make it freer, perhaps happier.
Hitherto you have had all the pleasure, now I desire my share. You often
speak of gratitude; prove it by granting my request, and, in adding a
new solace to my existence, you will find you have likewise added a new
charm to your own.”

“It is so sudden,—I do desire to show my gratitude,—I have tried to do
my part faithfully so far,” began Canaris, as if a look, a word, had
tamed his high spirit, and enforced docility sorely against his will.

“So far, I grant that, and I thank you for the service which I desire to
lessen by the step you decline to take. I have spoilt you for use, but
not for ornament. I still like to see you flourish; I enjoy your
success; I cannot free you; but I _can_ give you a mate, who will take
your place and amuse me at home, while you sing and soar abroad. Is that
sufficiently poetical for a poet’s comprehension?” and Helwyze smiled,
that satiric smile of his, still watching the young man’s agitated
countenance.

“But why need _I_ marry? Why cannot”—there Canaris hesitated, for he
lacked the courage to make the very natural suggestion Olivia had done.

Helwyze divined the question on his lips, and answered it with stern
brevity.

“That is impossible;” then added, with the sudden softening of tone
which made his voice irresistibly seductive, “I have given one reason
for my whim: there are others, which affect you more nearly and
pleasantly, perhaps. Little more than a year ago, your first book came
out, making you famous for a time. You have enjoyed your laurels for a
twelvemonth, and begin to sigh for more. The world has petted you, as it
does any novelty, and expects to be paid for its petting, else it will
soon forget you.”

“No fear of that!” exclaimed the other, with the artless arrogance of
youth.

“If I thought you would survive the experiment, I would leave you to
discover what a fickle mistress you serve. But frost would soon blight
your budding talent, so we will keep on the world’s sunny side, and
tempt the Muse, not terrify her.”

Nothing could be smoother than the voice in which these words were said;
but a keen ear would have detected an accent of delicate irony in it,
and a quick eye have seen that Canaris winced, as if a sore spot had
been touched.

“I should think marriage would do that last, most effectually,” he
answered, with a scornful shrug, and an air of great distaste.

“Not always: some geniuses are the better for such bondage. I fancy you
are one of them, and wish to try the experiment. If it fails, you can
play Byron, to your heart’s content.”

“A costly experiment for some one.” Canaris paused in his impatient
march, to look down with a glance of pity at the dead lily still knotted
in his button-hole.

Helwyze laughed at the touch of sentiment,—a low, quiet laugh; but it
made the young man flush, and hastily fling away the faded flower, whose
pure loveliness had been a joy to him an hour ago. With a half docile,
half defiant look, he asked coldly,—

“What next, sir?”

“Only this: you have done well. Now, you must do better, and let the
second book be free from the chief fault which critics found,—that,
though the poet wrote of love, it was evident he had never felt it.”

“Who shall say that?” with sudden warmth.

“I, for one. You know nothing of love, though you may flatter yourself
you do. So far, it has been pretty play enough, but I will not have you
waste yourself, or your time. You need inspiration, this will give it
you. At your age, it is easy to love the first sweet woman brought near
you, and almost impossible for any such to resist your wooing. An early
marriage will not only give heart and brain a fillip, but add the new
touch of romance needed to keep up the world’s interest in the rising
star, whose mysterious advent piques curiosity as strongly as his work
excites wonder and delight.”

Composure and content had been gradually creeping back into the
listener’s mien, as a skilful hand touched the various chords that
vibrated most tunefully in a young, imaginative, ardent nature. Vivid
fancy painted the “sweet woman” in a breath, quick wit saw at once the
worldly wisdom of the advice, and ambition found no obstacle impassable.

“You are right, sir, I submit; but I claim the privilege of choosing my
inspirer,” he said, warily.

“You have already chosen, if I am not much mistaken. A short wooing, but
a sure one; for little Gladys has no coquetry, and will not keep you
waiting for her answer.”

“Gladys is a child,” began Canaris, still hesitating to avow the truth.

“The fitter mate for you.”

“But, sir, you are mistaken: I do not love her.”

“Then, why teach her to love you?”

“I have not: I was only kind. Surely I cannot be expected to marry every
young girl who blushes when I look at her,” he said, with sullen
petulance, for women had spoilt the handsome youth, and he was as
ungrateful as such idols usually are.

“Then, who?—ah! I perceive; I had forgotten that a boy’s first
_tendresse_ is too often for a woman twice his age. May I trouble you?”
and Helwyze held up the empty glass with which he had been toying while
he talked.

Among the strew of books upon the table at his elbow stood an antique
silver flagon, coolly frosted over by the iced wine it held. This
Canaris obediently lifted; and, as he stooped to fill the rosy bowl of
the Venetian goblet, Helwyze leaned forward, till the two faces were so
close that eye looked into eye, as he said, in one swift sentence, “It
was to win Olivia for _yourself_, then, that you wooed Gladys for _me_,
three hours ago?”

The flagon was not heavy, but it shook in the young man’s grasp, and the
wine overflowed the delicate glass, dyeing red the hand that held it.
One face glowed with shame and anger; the other remained unmoved, except
a baffling smile upon the lips, that added, in mild reproach,—

“My Ganymede has lost his skill; it is time I filled his place with a
neat-handed Hebe. Make haste, and bring her to me soon.”

Mutely Canaris removed all traces of the treacherous mishap, inwardly
cursing his imprudent confidences, wondering what malignant chance
brought within ear-shot one who rarely left his own apartments at the
other end of the villa; and conscious of an almost superstitious fear of
this man, who read so surely, and dragged to light so ruthlessly, hidden
hopes and half-formed designs.

Vouchsafing no enlightenment, Helwyze sipped the cool draught with an
air of satisfaction, continuing the conversation in a tone of
exasperating calmness.

“Among other amusing fables with which you beguiled poor Gladys, I think
you promised counsel and comfort. Keep your word, and marry her. It is
the least you can do, after destroying her faith in the one friend she
possessed. A pleasant, but a dangerous pastime, and not in the best
taste; let me advise you to beware of it in future.”

There was a covert menace in the tone, a warning in the significant grip
of the pale fingers round the glass, as if about to snap its slender
stem. Canaris was white now with impotent wrath, and a thrill went
through his vigorous young frame, as if the wild creature was about to
break loose, and defy its captor.

But the powerful eye was on him, with a spark of fire in its depths, and
controlled till words, both sweet and bitter, soothed and won him.

“I know that any breath of tenderness would pass by Olivia as idly as
the wind. You doubt this, and a word will prove it. I am not a tyrant,
though I seem such; therefore you are free to try your fate before you
gratify my whim and make Gladys happy.”

“You think the answer will be ‘No?’” and Canaris forgot every thing but
the hope which tempted, even while reason told him it was vain.

“It always has been; it always will be, if I know her.”

“Will be till _you_ ask.”

“Rest easy; I am done with love.”

“But if she answers ‘Yes’?”

“Then bid good-bye to peace,—and me.”

The answer startled the young lover, and made him shrink from what he
ardently desired; for the new passion was but an enthralment of the
senses, and he knew it by the fine instinct which permits such men to
see and condemn their lower nature, even while yielding to its sway.

But pride silenced doubt, and native courage made it impossible to shun
the trial or accept the warning. His eye lit, his head rose, and he
spoke out manfully, though unconsciously he wore the look of one who
goes to lead a forlorn hope,—

“I shall try my fate to-night, and, if I fail, you may do what you like
with me.”

“Not a coward, thank Heaven!” mused Helwyze, as he looked after the
retreating figure with the contemptuous admiration one gives to any
foolhardy enterprise bravely undertaken. “He must have his lesson, and
will be the tamer for it, unless Olivia takes me at my word, and humors
the boy, for vengeance’ sake. That would be a most dramatic
complication, and endanger my winter’s comfort seriously. Come, suspense
is a new emotion; I will enjoy it, and meantime make sure of Gladys, or
I may be left in the lurch. A reckless boy and a disappointed woman are
capable of any folly.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   V.


Helwyze folded black velvet _paletôt_ about him, stroked the damp hair
off his forehead, and, with hands loosely clasped behind his back, went
walking slowly through the quiet house, to find the bright drawing-room
and breezy balcony already deserted.

No sound of voice or step gave him the clew he sought; and, pausing in
the hall, he stood a moment, his finger on his lip, wondering whither
Gladys had betaken herself.

“Not with them, assuredly. Dreaming in the moonshine somewhere. I must
look again.”

Retracing his noiseless steps, he glanced here and there with eyes which
nothing could escape, for trifles were significant to his quick wit; and
he found answers to unspoken queries in the relics the vanished trio
left behind them. Olivia’s fan, flung down upon a couch, made him smile,
as if he saw her toss it there when yielding half-impatiently to the
entreaties of Canaris. An ottoman, pushed hastily aside, told where the
young lover sat, till he beguiled her out to listen to the pleading
which would wax eloquent and bold under cover of the summer night. The
instrument stood open, a favorite song upon the rack, but the glimmering
keys were mute; and the wind alone was singing fitfully. A little hat
lay in the window, as if ready to be caught up in glad haste when the
summons came; but the dew had dimmed the freshness of its azure ribbons,
and there was a forlorn look about the girlish thing, which told the
story of a timid hope, a silent disappointment.

“Where the deuce is the child?” and Helwyze cast an ireful look about
the empty room; for motion wearied him, and any thwarting of his will
was dangerous. Suddenly his eye brightened, and he nodded, as if well
pleased; for below the dark drapery that hung before an arch, a fold of
softest white betrayed the wearer.

“Now I have her!” he whispered, as if to some familiar; and, parting the
curtains, looked down upon the little figure sitting there alone, bathed
in moonlight as purely placid as the face turned on him when he spoke.

“Might one come in? The house seems quite deserted, and I want some
charitable soul to say a friendly word to me.”

“Oh, yes! What can I do, sir?” With the look of a suddenly awakened
child, Gladys rose up, and involuntarily put out her hand as if to heap
yet more commodiously the pillows of the couch which filled the alcove;
then paused, remembering what Canaris had told her of the invalid’s
rejection of all sympathy, and stood regarding him with a shy, yet
wistful glance, which plainly showed the impulse of her tender heart.

Conscious that the surest way to win this simple creature was by
submitting to be comforted,—for in her, womanly compassion was stronger
than womanly ambition, vanity, or interest,—Helwyze shed a reassuring
smile upon her, as he threw himself down, exclaiming, with a sigh of
satisfaction, doubly effective from one who so seldom owned the
weariness that oppressed him,—

“Yes: you shall make me comfortable, if you kindly will; the heat
exhausts me, and I cannot sleep. Ah, this is pleasant! You have the gift
of piling pillows for weary heads, Gladys. Now, let the moonlight make a
picture of you, as it did before I spoilt it; then I shall envy no man.”

Pleased, yet abashed, the girl sank back into her place on the wide
window ledge, and bent her face over the blooming linden spray that lay
upon her lap, unconsciously making of herself a prettier picture than
before.

“Musing here alone? Not sorrowfully, I hope?”

“I never feel alone, sir, and seldom sorrowful.”

“‘They never are alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts;’ yet it
would not be unnatural if you felt both sad and solitary, so young, so
isolated, in this big, bad world of ours.”

“A beautiful and happy world to me, sir. Even loneliness is pleasant,
because with it comes—liberty.”

The last word fell from her lips involuntarily; and, with a wonderfully
expressive gesture, she lifted her arms as if some heavy fetter had
newly dropped away.

Ardent emphasis and forceful action both surprised and interested
Helwyze, confirming his suspicion that this girlish bosom hid a spirit
as strong as pure, capable of deep suffering, exquisite happiness,
heroic effort. His eye shone, and he gave a satisfied nod; for his first
careless words had struck fire from the girl, making his task easier and
more attractive.

“And how will you use this freedom? A precious, yet a perilous, gift for
such as you.”

“Can any thing so infinitely sweet and sacred be dangerous? He who
planted the longing for it here, and gave it me when most needed, will
surely teach me how to use it. I have no fear.”

The bent head was erect now; the earnest face turned full on Helwyze
with such serene faith shining in it, that the sneer died off his lips,
and something like genuine compassion touched him, at the sight of such
brave innocence tranquilly confronting the unknown future.

“May nothing molest, or make afraid. While here, you are quite safe;—you
_do_, then, think of going?” he added, as a quick change arrested him.

“I do, sir, and soon. I only wait to see how, and where.”

It was difficult to believe that so resolute a tone could come into a
voice so gentle, or that lips whose shape was a smile could curl with
such soft scorn. But both were there; for the memory of that other
woman’s story embittered even gratitude, since in the girl’s simple
creed disloyalty to love was next to disloyalty to God.

Helwyze watched her closely, while his fingers fell to tapping idly on
the sofa scroll; and the spark brightened under the lids that contracted
with the intent expression of concentrated sight.

“Perhaps I can show you how and when. May I?” he asked, assuming a
paternal air, which inwardly amused him much.

Gladys looked, hesitated, and a shade of perplexity dimmed the clear
brightness of her glance, as if vaguely conscious of distrust, and
troubled by its seeming causelessness.

Helwyze saw it, and quickly added the magical word which lulled
suspicion, roused interest, and irresistibly allured her fancy.

“Pardon me; I should not have ventured to speak, if Felix had not hinted
that you began to weary of dependence, as all free spirits must; your
own words confirm the hint; and I desired to share my cousin’s pleasure
in befriending, if I might, one who can so richly repay all obligation.
Believe me, Gladys, your voice is a treasure, which, having discovered,
we want to share between us.”

If the moonlight had been daybreak, the girl’s cheek could not have
shown a rosier glow, as she half-averted it to hide the joy she felt at
knowing Canaris had taken thought for her so soon. Her heart fluttered
with tender hopes and fears, like a nestful of eager birds; and,
forgetting doubt in delight, she yielded to the lure held out to her.

“You are most kind: I shall be truly grateful if you will advise me,
sir. Mrs. Surry has done so much, I can ask no more, but rather hasten
to relieve her of all further care of me.”

“She will be loth to lose you; but the friend of whom I am about to
speak needs you much, and can give you what you love better even than
kindness,—independence.”

“Yes: that is what I long for! I will do any thing for daily bread, if I
may earn it honestly, and eat it in freedom,” leaning nearer, with
clasped hands and eager look.

“Could you be happy to spend some hours of each day in reading, singing
to, and amusing a poor soul, who sorely needs such pleasant comforting?”

“I could. It would be very sweet to do it; and I know how, excellently
well, for I have had good training. My father was an invalid, and I his
only nurse for years.”

“Fortunate for me in all ways,” thought Helwyze, finding another reason
for his purpose; while Gladys, bee-like, getting sweetness out of
bitter-herbs, said to herself, “Those weary years had their use, and are
not wasted, as I feared.”

“I think these duties will not be difficult nor distasteful,” continued
Helwyze, marking the effect of each attraction, as he mentioned it with
modest brevity. “It is a quiet place; plenty of rare books to read, fine
pictures to study, and music to enjoy; a little clever society, to keep
wits bright and enliven solitude; hours of leisure, and entire liberty
to use them as you will. Would this satisfy you, Gladys, till something
better can be found?”

“Better!” echoed the girl, with the expression of one who, having asked
for a crust, is bidden to a feast. “Ah, sir, it sounds too pleasant for
belief. I long for all these lovely things, but never hoped to have
them. Can I earn so much happiness? Am I a fit companion for this poor
lady, who must need the gentlest nursing, if she suffers in the midst of
so much to enjoy?”

“You will suit exactly; have no fear of that, my good child. Just be
your own happy, helpful self, and you can make sunshine anywhere. We
will talk more of this when you have turned it over in that wise young
head of yours. Olivia may have some more attractive plan to offer.”

But Gladys shook “the wise young head” with a decided air, as piquante
as the sudden resolution in her artless voice.

“I shall choose for myself; your plan pleases me better than any Mrs.
Surry is likely to propose. She says I must not work, but rest and enjoy
myself. I will work; I love it; ease steals away my strength, and
pleasure seems to dazzle me. I must be strong, for I have only myself to
lean upon; I must see clearly, for my only guide is my own conscience. I
_will_ think of your most kind offer, and be ready to accept it whenever
you like to try me, sir.”

“Thanks; I like to try you now, then; sit here and croon some drowsy
song, to show how well you can lull wakeful senses into that blessed
oblivion called sleep.”

As he spoke, Helwyze drew a low seat beside the couch, and beckoned her
to come and take it; for she had risen as if to go, and he had no mind
to be left alone yet.

“I am so pleased you asked me to do this, for it is my special gift.
Papa was very stubborn, but he always had to yield, and often called me
his ‘sleep compeller.’ Let me drop the curtain first, light is so
exciting, and draws the insects. I shall keep them off with this pretty
fan, and you will find the faint perfume soothing.”

Full of the sweetest good-will, Gladys leaned across the couch to darken
the recess before the lullaby began. But Helwyze, feeling in a mood for
investigation and experiment, arrested the outstretched hand, and,
holding it in his, turned the full brilliance of his fine eyes on hers,
asking with most seductive candor,—

“Gladys, if _I_ were the friend of whom we spoke, would you come to me?
You compel truth as well as sleep, and I cannot deceive you, while you
so willingly serve me.”

A moment she stood looking down into the singular countenance before her
with a curious intentness in her own. A slight quickening of the breath
was all the sign she gave of a consciousness of the penetrative glance
fixed upon her, the close grasp of his hand; otherwise unembarrassed as
a child, she regarded him with an expression maidenly modest, but quite
composed. Helwyze keenly enjoyed these glimpses of the new character
with which he chose to meddle, yet was both piqued and amused by her
present composure, when the mere name of Felix filled her with the
delicious shamefacedness of a first love.

It was a little curious that during the instant the two surveyed each
other, that, while the girl’s color faded, a light red tinged the man’s
pale cheek, her eye grew clear and cold as his softened, and the small
hand seemed to hold the larger by the mere contact of its passive
fingers.

Slow to arrive, the answer was both comprehensive and significant, but
very brief, for three words held it.

“Could I come?”

Helwyze laughed with real enjoyment.

“You certainly have the gift of surprises, if no other, and it makes you
charming, Gladys. I fancied you as unsophisticated as if you were eight,
instead of eighteen, and here I find you as discreet as any woman of the
world,—more so than many. Where did you learn it, child?”

“From myself; I have no other teacher.”

“Ah! ‘instinct is a fine thing, my masters.’ _You_ could not have a
better guide. Rest easy, little friend, the proprieties shall be
preserved, and you _can_ come, if you decide to do me the honor. My old
housekeeper is a most decorous and maternal creature, and into her
keeping you will pass. Felix pleased me well, but his time is too
valuable now; and, selfish as I am, I hesitate to keep for my own
comfort the man who can charm so many. Will you come, and take his
place?”

Helwyze could not deny himself the pleasure of calling back the
tell-tale color, for the blushes of a chaste woman are as beautiful as
the blooming of a flower. Quickly the red tide rose, even to the brow,
the eyes fell, the hand thrilled, and the steady voice faltered
traitorously, “I could not fill it, sir.”

Still detaining her, that he might catch the sweet aroma of an opening
heart, Helwyze added, as the last temptation to this young Eve, whom he
was beguiling out of the safe garden of her tranquil girlhood into the
unknown world of pain and passion, waiting for womankind beyond,—

“Not for my own sake alone do I want you, but for his. Life is full of
perils for him, and he needs a home. I cannot make one for him, except
in this way, for my house is my prison, and he wearies of it naturally.
But I _can_ give it a new charm, add a never-failing attraction, and
make it homelike by a woman’s presence. Will you help me in this?”

“I am not wise enough; Mrs. Surry is often with you: surely she could
make it homelike far better than I,” stammered Gladys, chilled by a
sudden fear, as she remembered Canaris’ face as he departed with Olivia
an hour ago.

“Pardon; that is precisely what she cannot do. Such women weary while
they dazzle, the gentler sort win while they soothe. We shall see less
of her in future; it is not well for Felix. Take pity on _me_, at least,
and answer ‘Yes.’”

“I do, sir.”

“How shall I thank you?” and Helwyze kissed the hand as he released it,
leaving a little thorn of jealousy behind to hoodwink prudence,
stimulate desire, and fret the inward peace that was her best
possession.

Glad to take refuge in music, the girl assumed her seat, and began to
sing dreamily to the slow waving of the green spray. Helwyze feigned to
be courting slumber, but from the ambush of downcast lids he stole
sidelong glances at the countenance so near his own, that he could mark
the gradual subsiding of emotion, the slow return of the repose which
made its greatest charm for him. And so well did he feign, that
presently, as if glad to see her task successfully ended, Gladys stole
away to the seclusion of her own happy thoughts.

Busied with his new plans and purposes, Helwyze waited till his patience
was rewarded by seeing the face of Canaris appear at the window, glance
in, and vanish as silently as it came. But one look was enough, and in
that flash of time the other read how the rash wooing had sped, or
thought he did, till Olivia came sweeping through the room, flung wide
the curtains, and looked in with eyes as brilliant as if, they had
borrowed light of the fire-flies dancing there without.

“A fan, a cigarette, a scarlet flower behind the ear, and the Spanish
donna would be quite perfect,” he said, surveying with lazy admiration
the richly colored face, which looked out from the black lace, wrapped
mantilla-wise over the dark hair and whitely gleaming arms.

“Is the snowdrop gone? Then I will come in, and hear how the new
handmaid suits. I saw her at her pleasing task.”

“So well that I should like to keep her at it long and often. Where is
Felix?”

His words, his look, angered Olivia, and she answered with smiling
ambiguity,—

“Out of his misery, at last.”

“Cruel as ever. I told him it would be so.”

“On the contrary, I have been kind, as I promised to be.”

“Then his face belied him.”

“Would it please you, if I had ventured to forestall your promised gift,
and accepted all Felix has to offer me, himself. I have my whims, like
you, and follow them as recklessly.”

Helwyze knit his brows, but answered negligently, “Folly never pleases
me. It will be amusing to see which tires first. I shall miss him; but
his place is already filled, and Gladys has the charm of novelty.”

“You have spoken, then?”

“Forewarned, forearmed; I have her promise, and Felix can go when he
likes.”

Olivia paled, dropped her mask, and exclaimed in undisguised alarm,—

“There is no need: I have no thought of such folly! My kindness to Felix
was the sparing him an avowal, which was simply absurd. A word, a laugh,
did it, for ridicule cures more quickly and surely than compassion.”

“I thought so. Why try to fence with me, Madama? you always get the
worst of it,” and Helwyze made the green twig whistle through the air
with a sharp turn of the wrist, as he rose to go; for these two, bound
together by a mutual wrong, seldom met without bitter words, the dregs
of a love which might have blest them both.

He found Felix waiting for him, in a somewhat haughty mood; Olivia
having judged wisely that ridicule, though a harsh, was a speedy cure
for the youthful delusion, which had been fostered by the isolation in
which they lived, and the ardent imagination of a poet.

“You were right, sir. What are your commands?” he asked, controlling
disappointment, pique, and unwillingness with a spirit that won respect
and forbearance even from Helwyze, who answered with a cordial warmth,
as rare as charming,—

“I have none: the completion of my wish I leave to you. Consult your own
time and pleasure, and, when it is happily accomplished, be assured I
shall not forget that you have shown me the obedience of a son.”

Quick as a child to be touched, and won by kindness, Canaris flushed
with grateful feeling and put out his hand impulsively, as he had done
when selling his liberty, for now he was selling his love.

“Forgive my waywardness. I _will_ be guided by you, for I owe you my
life, and all the happiness I have known in it. Gladys shall be a
daughter to you; but give me time—I must teach myself to forget.”

His voice broke as he stumbled over the last words, for pride was sore,
and submission hard. But Helwyze soothed the one and softened the other
by one of the sympathetic touches which occasionally broke from him,
proving that the man’s heart, was not yet quite dead. Laying his hand
upon the young man’s shoulder, he said in a tone which stirred the
hearer deeply,—

“I feared this pain was in store for you, but could not save you from
it. Accept the gentle comforter I bring you, for I have known the same
pain, and _I_ had no Gladys.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  VI.


So the days went by, fast and fair in outward seeming, while an
undercurrent of unquiet emotion rolled below. Helwyze made no sign of
impatience, but silently forwarded his wish, by devoting himself to
Olivia; thereby making a green oasis in the desert of her life, and
leaving the young pair to themselves.

At first, Canaris shunned every one as much as possible; but sympathy,
not solitude, was the balm he wanted, and who could give it him so
freely as Gladys? Her mute surprise and doubt and grief at this
capricious coldness, after such winning warmth, showed him that the
guileless heart was already his, and added a soothing sense of power to
the reluctance and regret which by turns tormented him.

Irresistibly drawn by the best instincts of a faulty but aspiring nature
to that which was lovely, true, and pure, he soon returned to Gladys,
finding in her sweet society a refreshment and repose Olivia’s could
never give him. Love he did not feel, but affection, the more helpful
for its calmness; confidence, which was given again fourfold; and
reverence, daily deepening as time showed him the gentle strength and
crystal clarity of the spirit he was linking to his own by ties which
death itself could not sever. But the very virtues which won, also made
him hesitate, though rash enough when yielding to an attraction far less
noble. A sense of unworthiness restrained him, even when reluctance had
passed from resignation to something like desire, and he paused, as one
might, who longed to break a delicate plant, yet delayed, lest it should
wither too quickly in his hand.

Helwyze and Olivia watched this brief wooing with peculiar interest.
She, being happy herself, was full of good hope for Gladys, and let her
step, unwarned, into the magic circle drawn around her. He sat as if at
a play, enjoying the pretty pastoral enacted before him, content to let
“summer and seclusion” bring the young pair together as naturally and
easily as spring-time mates the birds. Suspense gave zest to the new
combination, surprise added to its flavor, and a dash of danger made it
unusually attractive to him.

Canaris came to him one day, with a resolute expression on his face,
which rendered it noble, as well as beautiful.

“Sir, I will not do this thing; I dare not.”

“Dare not! Is cowardice to be added to disobedience and falsehood?” and
Helwyze looked up from his book with a contemptuous frown.

“I will not be sneered out of my purpose; for I never did a braver,
better act than when I say to you, ‘I dare not lie to Gladys.’”

“What need of lying? Surely you love her now, or you are a more
accomplished actor than I thought you.”

“I have tried,—tried too faithfully for her peace, I fear; but, though I
reverence her as an angel, I do _not_ love her as a woman. How can I
look into her innocent, confiding face, and tell her,—she who is all
truth,—that I love as she does?”

“Yet that is the commonest, most easily forgiven falsehood a man can
utter. Is it so hard for _you_ to deceive?”

Quick and deep rose the hot scarlet to Canaris’s face, and his eyes
fell, as if borne down by the emphasis of that one word. But the
sincerity of his desire brought courage even out of shame; and, lifting
his head with a humility more impressive than pride or anger, he said,
steadily,—

“If this truth redeems that falsehood, I shall, at least, have recovered
my own self-respect. I never knew that I had lost it, till Gladys showed
me how poor I was in the virtue which makes her what she is.”

“What conscientious qualm is this? Where would this truth-telling bring
you? How would your self-respect bear the knowledge that you had broken
the girl’s heart? for, angel as you call her, she has one, and you have
stolen it.”

“At your bidding.”

“Long before I thought of it. Did you imagine you could play with her,
to pique Olivia, without harm to Gladys? Is yours a face to smile on a
woman, day after day, and not teach her to love? In what way but this
_can_ you atone for such selfish thoughtlessness? Come, if we are to
talk of honor and honesty, do it fairly, and not shift the
responsibility of your acts upon my shoulders.”

“Have I done that? I never meant to trouble her. Is there no way out of
it but this? Oh, sir, I am not fit to marry her! What am I, to take a
fellow-creature’s happiness into my hands? What have I to offer her but
the truth in return for her love, if I must take it to secure her
peace?”

“If you offer the truth, you certainly _will_ have nothing else, and not
even receive love in return, perhaps; for her respect may go with all
the rest. If I know her, the loss of that would wound her heart more
deeply than the disappointment your silence will bring her now. Think of
this, and be wise as well as generous in the atonement you should make.”

“Bound, whichever way I look; for when I meant to be kindest I am
cruel.”

Canaris stood perplexed, abashed, remorseful; for Helwyze had the art to
turn even his virtues into weapons against him, making his new-born
regard for Gladys a reason for being falsely true, dishonorably tender.
The honest impulse suddenly looked weak and selfish, compassion seemed
nobler than sincerity, and present peace better than future happiness.

Helwyze saw that he was wavering, and turned the scale by calling to his
aid one of the strongest passions that rule men,—the spirit of
rivalry,—knowing well its power over one so young, so vain and
sensitive.

“Felix, there must be an end of this; I am tired of it. Since you are
more enamoured of truth than Gladys, choose, and abide by it. I shall
miss my congenial comrade, but I will not keep him if he feels my
friendship slavery. I release you from all promises: go your way, in
peace; I can do without you.”

A daring offer, and Helwyze risked much in making it; but he knew the
man before him, and that in seeming to set free, he only added another
link to the invisible chain by which he held him. Canaris looked
relieved, amazed, and touched, as he exclaimed, incredulously,—

“Do you mean it, sir?”

“I do; but in return for your liberty I claim the right to use mine as I
will.”

“Use it? I do not understand.”

“To comfort Gladys.”

“How?”

“You do not love her, and leave her doubly forlorn, since you have given
her a glimpse of love. I must befriend her, as you will not; and when
she comes to me, as she has promised, if she is happy, I shall keep
her.”

“As _fille adoptive_.”

Canaris affirmed, not asked, this; and, in the changed tone, the
suspicious glance, Helwyze saw that he had aimed well. With a smile that
was a sneer, he answered coldly,—

“Hardly that: the paternal element is sadly lacking in me; and, if it
were not, I fear a man of forty could not adopt a girl of eighteen
without compromising her, especially one so lonely and so lovely as poor
little Gladys.”

“You will marry her? Yet when I hinted it, you said, ‘Impossible!’”

“I did; but then I did not know how helpful she could be, how glad to
love, how easy to be won by kindness. _Ennui_ drives one to do the
rashest things; and when you are gone, I shall find it difficult to fill
your place. ’Tis a pity to tie the pretty creature to such a clod. But,
if I can help and keep her in no other way, I may do it, remembering
that her captivity would be a short one; it should be my care that it
was a very light one while it lasted.”

“But she loves _me_!” exclaimed Canaris, with jealous inconsistency.

“I fear so; yet you reject her for a scruple. Hearts are easily caught
in the rebound; and who will hold hers more gently than I? Olivia will
tell you I _can_ be gentle when it suits me.”

The name stung Canaris, where pride was sorest; and the thought, that
this man could take from him both the woman whom he loved and the girl
who loved him, roused an ignoble desire to silence the noble one. He
showed it instantly, for his eye shot a quick glance at the mirror; a
smile that was almost insolent passed over his face; and his air was
full of the proud consciousness of youth, health, comeliness, and
talent.

“Thanks for my freedom; I shall know how to use it. Since I may tell
Gladys the truth, I do not dread her love so much; and will atone
generously, if I can. I think she will accept poverty with me rather
than luxury with you. At least she shall have her choice.”

“Well said. You will succeed, since you possess all the gifts which win
women except wealth and”—

“Stop! you shall _not_ say it,” cried Canaris, hotly. “Are you possessed
of a devil, that you torment me so?” He clenched his hands, and walked
fast through the room, as if to escape from some fierce impulse.

A certain, almost brutal, frankness characterized the intercourse of
these men at times; for the tie between them was a peculiar one, and
fretted both, though both clung to it with strange tenacity. With equal
candor and entire composure Helwyze answered the excited question.

“We are all possessed, more or less; happy the man who is master. My
demon is a bad one; for your intellectual devil is hard to manage, since
he demands the best of us, and is not satisfied or cheated as easily as
some that are stronger, yet less cunning. Yours is ambition,—an
insatiable fellow, who gives you no rest. I had a fancy to help you rule
him; but he proves less interesting that I thought to find him, and is
getting to be a bore. See what you can do, alone; only, when he gets the
upper hand again, excuse me from interfering: once is enough.”

Canaris made no reply, but dashed out of the room, as if he could bear
no more, leaving Helwyze to throw down his book, muttering impatiently,—

“Here is a froward favorite, and excitement with a vengeance! He will
not speak yet; for with all his fire he is wary, and while he fumes I
must work. But how? but how?”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  VII.


A storm raged all that night; but dawn came up so dewy and serene, that
the world looked like a child waking after anger, with happy smiles upon
its lips, penitential tears in its blue eyes.

Canaris was early astir, after a night as stormy within as without,
during which he had gone through so many alternations of feeling, that,
weary and still undecided, he was now in the mood to drift whithersoever
the first eddy impelled him. Straight to Gladys, it seemed; and, being
superstitious, he accepted the accident as a good omen, following his
own desire, and calling it fate.

Wandering in the loneliest, wildest spot of all the domain, he came upon
her as suddenly as if a wish had brought her to the nook haunted for
both by pleasant memories. Dew-drenched her feet, hatless her head; but
the feet stood firmly on the cliff which shelved down to the shore
below, and the upturned head shone bright against the deep blue of the
sky. Morning peace dwelt in her eyes, morning freshness glowed on her
cheek, and her whole attitude was one of unconscious aspiration, as she
stood there with folded hands and parted lips, drinking in the
storm-cooled breeze that blew vigorous and sweet across the lake.

“What are you doing here so early, little dryad?” and Canaris paused,
with an almost irresistible desire to put out his arms and hold her,
lest she fly away, so airy was her perch, so eager her look into the
boundless distance before her.

“Only being happy!” and she looked down into his face with such tender
and timid joy in her own, he hardly had need to ask,—

“Why, Gladys?”

“Because of this,” showing a string of pearls that hung from her hand,
half-hidden among the trailing bits of greenery gathered in her walk.

“Who gave you that?” demanded Canaris, eying it with undisguised
surprise; for the pearls were great, globy things, milk-white, and so
perfect that any one but Gladys would have seen how costly was the gift.

“Need you ask?” she said, blushing brightly.

“Why not? Do you suspect me?”

“You cannot deceive me by speaking roughly and looking stern. Who but
you would put these in my basket without a word, and let me find them
there when I laid my work away last night? I was so pleased, so proud, I
could not help keeping them, though far too beautiful for me.”

Then Canaris knew who had done it; and his hand tightened over the
necklace, while his eye went towards the lake, as if he longed to throw
it far into the water. He checked himself, and, turning it about with a
disdainful air, said, coldly,—

“If _I_ had given you this, it should have been quite perfect. The cross
is not large nor fine enough to match the chain. Do you see?”

“Ah, but the little cross is more precious than all the rest! That is
the one jewel my mother left me, and I put it there to make my rosary
complete;” and Gladys surveyed it with a pretty mixture of devout
affection and girlish pleasure.

“I’ll give you a better one than this,—a string of tiny carved saints in
scented wood, blessed by holy hands, and fit to say prayers like yours
upon. You will take it, though my gift is not half so costly as his?” he
said, eagerly.

“Whose?”

“Helwyze gave you that.”

“But why?” and Gladys opened wide her clear, large eyes in genuine
astonishment.

“He is a generous master; your singing pleases him, and he pays you so,”
replied Canaris, bitterly.

“He is not my master!”

“He will be.”

“Never! I shall not go, if I am to be burdened with benefits. I will
earn my just due, but not be overpaid. Tell him so.”

Gladys caught back the chain, unclasped the cross, and threw the pearls
upon the grass, where they lay, gleaming, like great drops of frozen
dew, among the green. Canaris liked that; thought proudly, “_I_ have no
need to bribe;” and hastened to make his own the thing another seemed to
covet. Drawing nearer, he looked up, asking, in a tone that gave the
question its true meaning,—

“May _I_ be your master, Gladys?”

“Not even you.”

“Your slave, then?”

“Never that.”

“Your lover?”

“Yes.”

“But I can give you nothing except myself.”

“Love is enough;” and finding his arms about her, his face, warm and
wistful, close to hers, Gladys bent to give and take the first kiss,
which was all they had to bestow upon each other.

Singularly unimpassioned was the embrace in which they stood for a brief
instant. Canaris held her with a clasp more jealous than fond; Gladys
clung to him, yet trembled, as if some fear subdued her joy; and both
vaguely felt the incompleteness of a moment which should be perfect.

“You do love me, then?” she whispered, wondering at his silence.

“Should I ask you to be my wife if I did not?” and the stern look melted
into an expression of what seemed, to her, reproach.

“No; ah, no! I fancied that I might have deceived myself. I am so young,
you are so kind. I never had a—friend before;” and Gladys smiled shyly,
as the word which meant “lover” dropped from her lips.

“I am not kind: I am selfish, cruel, perhaps, to let you love me so. You
will never reproach me for it, Gladys? I mean to save you from ills you
know nothing of; to cherish and protect you—if I can.”

Verily in earnest now; for the touch of those innocent lips reminded him
of all his promise meant, recalled his own unfitness to guide or guard
another, when so wayward and unwise himself. Gladys could not understand
the true cause of his beseeching look, his urgency of tone; but saw in
them only the generous desire to keep safe the creature dearest to him,
and loved him the more for it.

“I never can think you selfish, never will reproach you but will love
and trust and honor you all my life,” she answered, with a simplicity as
solemn as sincere; and, holding out the hand that held her dead mother’s
cross, Canaris pledged his troth upon it with the mistaken chivalry
which makes many a man promise to defend a woman against all men but
himself.

“Now you can be happy again,” he said, feeling that he had done his best
to keep her so.

She thought he meant look out upon the lake, dreaming of him as when he
found her; and, turning, stretched forth her arms as if to embrace the
whole world, and tell the smiling heaven her glad secret.

“Doubly happy; then I only hoped, now I _know_!”

Something in the exultant gesture, the fervent tone, the radiant face,
thrilled Canaris with a sudden admiration; a feeling of proud
possession; a conviction that he had gained, not lost; and he said
within himself,—

“I am glad I did it. I will cherish her; she will inspire me; and good
_shall_ come out of seeming evil.”

His spirits rose with a new sense of well-being and well-doing. He
gathered up the rejected treasure, and gave it back to Gladys, saying
lightly,—

“You may keep it as a wedding-gift; then he need give no other. He meant
it so, perhaps, and it will please him. Will you, love?”

“If you ask it. But why must brides wear pearls? They mean tears,” she
added, thoughtfully, as she received them back.

“Perhaps because then the sorrows of their lives begin. Yours shall not:
I will see to that,” he promised, with the blind confidence of the
self-sacrificing mood he was in.

Gladys sat down upon the rock to explore a pocket, so small and empty
that Canaris could not help smiling, as he, too, leaned and looked with
a lover’s freedom.

“Only my old chain. I must put back the cross, else I shall lose it,”
laughed Gladys, as she brought out a little cord of what seemed woven
yellow silk.

“Is it your hair?” he asked, his eye caught by its peculiar sunshiny
hue.

“Yes; I could not buy a better one, so I made this. My hair is all the
gold I have.”

“Give it to me, and you wear mine. See, I have an amulet as well as
you.”

Fumbling in his breast, Canaris undid a slender chain, whence hung a
locket, curiously chased, and tarnished with long wear. This he unslung,
and, opening, showed Gladys the faded picture of a beautiful, sad woman.

“That is my Madonna.”

“Your mother?”

“Yes.”

“Mine now.” The girl touched it with her lips, then softly closed and
laid it on her lap.

Silently Canaris stood watching her, as she re-slung both poor but
precious relics, while the costlier one slipped down, as if ashamed to
lie beside them. He caught and swung it on his finger, thinking of
something he had lately read to Helwyze.

“Kharsu, the Persian, sent a necklace to Schirin, the princess, whom he
loved. She was a Christian, and hung a cross upon his string of pearls,
as you did,” he said aloud.

“But I am not a princess, and Mr. Helwyze does not love me; so the
pretty story is all spoiled.”

“This thing recalled it. _I_ have given you a necklace, and you are
hanging a cross upon it. Wear the one, and use the other, for my sake.
Will you, Gladys?”

“Did Schirin convert Kharsu?” asked the girl, catching his thought more
from his face than his words; for it wore a look of mingled longing and
regret, which she had never seen before.

“That I do not know; but you must convert me: I am a sad heathen,
Helwyze says.”

“Has _he_ tried?”

“No.”

“Then I will!”

“You see I’ve had no one to teach me any thing but worldly wisdom, and I
sometimes feel as I should be better for a little of the heavenly sort.
So when you wear the rosary I shall give you—‘Fair saint, in your
orisons be all my sins remembered;’” and Canaris put his hand upon her
head, smiling, as if half-ashamed of his request.

“I am no Catholic, but I _will_ pray for you, and you shall not be lost.
The mother in heaven and the wife on earth will keep you safe,”
whispered Gladys, in her fervent voice, feeling and answering with a
woman’s quickness the half-expressed desire of a nature conscious of its
weakness, yet unskilled in asking help for its greatest need.

Silently the two young lovers put on their amulets, and, hand in hand,
went back along the winding path, till they reached the great eglantine
that threw its green arches across the outlet from the wood. All beyond
was radiantly bright and blooming; and as Canaris, passing first to hold
back the thorny boughs, stood an instant, bathed in the splendor of the
early sunshine, Gladys exclaimed, her face full of the tender idolatry
of a loving woman,—

“O Felix, you are so good, so great, so beautiful, if it were not
wicked, I should worship you!”

“God forbid! Do not love me too much, Gladys: I do not deserve it.”

“How can I help it, when I feel very like the girl who lost her heart to
the Apollo?” she answered, feeling that she never could love _too much_.

“And broke her heart, you remember, because her god was only a stone.”

“Mine is not, and he will answer when I call.”

“If he does not, he will be harder and colder than the marble!”

When Canaris, some hours later, told Helwyze, he looked well pleased,
thinking, “Jealousy is a helpful ally. I do not regret calling in its
aid, though it has cost Olivia her pearls.” Aloud he said, with a
gracious air, which did not entirely conceal some secret anxiety,—

“Then you have made a clean breast of it, and she forgives all
peccadilloes?”

“I have not told her; and I will not, till I have atoned for the meanest
of them. May I ask you to be silent also for her sake?”

“You are wise.” Then, as if glad to throw off all doubt and care, he
asked, in a pleasantly suggestive tone,—

“The wedding will soon follow the wooing, I imagine, for you make short
work of matters, when you do begin?”

“You told me to execute your wish in my own way. I will do so, without
troubling Mrs. Surry, or asking you to give us your blessing, since
playing the father to orphans is distasteful to you.”

Very calm and cool was Canaris now; but a sense of wrong burned at his
heart, marring the satisfaction he felt in having done what he believed
to be a just and generous act.

“It is; but I will assume the character long enough to suggest, nay,
_insist_, that however hasty and informal this marriage may be, you will
take care that it _is_ one.”

“Do you mean that for a hint or a warning, sir? I have lied and stolen
by your advice; shall I also betray?” asked Canaris, white with
indignation, and something like fear; for he began to feel that whatever
this man commanded he must do, spite of himself.

“Strong language, Felix. But I forgive it, since I am sincere in wishing
well to Gladys. Marry when and how you please, only do not annoy me with
another spasm of virtue. It is a waste of time, you see, for the thing
is done.”

“Not yet; but soon will be, for you are fast curing me of a too tender
conscience.”

“Faster than you think, my Faust; since to marry without love betrays as
surely as to love without marriage,” said Helwyze to himself, expressing
in words the thought that had restrained the younger, better man.

A week later, Canaris came in with Gladys on his arm, looking very like
a bride in a little bonnet tied with white, and a great nosegay of all
the sweet, pale flowers blooming in the garden that first Sunday of
September.

“Good-bye, sir; we are going.”

“Where, may I ask? To church?”

“We have been;” and Canaris touched the ungloved hand that lay upon his
arm, showing the first ring it had ever worn.

“Ah! then I can only say, Heaven bless you, Gladys; a happy honeymoon,
Felix, and welcome home when—you are tired of each other.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 VIII.


“Home at last, thank Heaven!” exclaimed Canaris, as the door opened,
letting forth a stream of light and warmth into the chilly gloom of the
October night. Gladys made no answer but an upward look, which seemed to
utter the tender welcome he had forgotten to give; and, nestling her
hand in his, let him lead her through the bright hall, up the wide
stairway to her own domain.

“As we return a little before our time, we must not expect a jubilee.
Look about you, love, and rest. I will send Mrs. Bland presently, and
tell Helwyze we are come.”

He hurried away, showing no sign of the _ennui_ which had fitfully
betrayed itself during the last week. Gladys watched him wistfully, then
turned to see what home was like, with eyes that brightened beautifully
as they took in the varied charms of the luxurious apartments prepared
for her. The newly kindled light filled the room with a dusky splendor;
for deepest crimson glowed everywhere, making her feel as if she stood
in the heart of a great rose whose silken petals curtained her round
with a color, warmth, and fragrance which would render sleep a “rapture
of repose.” Womanlike, she enjoyed every dainty device and sumptuous
detail; yet the smile of pleasure was followed by a faint sigh, as if
the new magnificence oppressed her, or something much desired had been
forgotten.

Stepping carefully, like one who had no right there, she passed on to a
charming drawing-room, evidently intended for but two occupants, and all
the pleasanter to her for that suggestion. Pausing on the threshold of
another door, she peeped in, expecting to find one of those scented,
satin boudoirs, which are fitter for the coquetries of a Parisian belle,
than for a young wife to hope and dream and pray in.

But there was no splendor here; and, with a cry of glad surprise, its
new owner took possession, wondering what gentle magic had guessed and
gathered here the simple treasures she best loved. White everywhere,
except the pale green of the softly tinted walls, and the mossy carpet
strewn with mimic snowdrops. A sheaf of lilies in a silver vase stood on
the low chimney-piece above the hearth, where a hospitable fire lay
ready to kindle at a touch; and this was the only sign of luxury the
room displayed. Quaint furniture, with no ornament except its own grace
or usefulness, gave the place a homelike air; and chintz hangings, fresh
and delicate as green leaves scattered upon snow could make them, seemed
to shut out the world, securing the sweet privacy a happy woman loves.

Gladys felt this instantly, and, lifting her hand to draw the pretty
draperies yet closer, discovered a new surprise, which touched her to
the heart. Instead of looking out into the darkness of the autumn night,
she found a little woodland nook imprisoned between the glass-door and
the deep window beyond. A veritable bit of the forest, with slender
ferns nodding in their sleep, hardy vines climbing up a lichened stump
to show their scarlet berries, pine-needles pricking through the moss,
rough arbutus leaves hiding coyly till spring should freshen their
russet edges, acorns looking as if just dropped by some busy squirrel,
and all manner of humble weeds, growing here as happily as when they
carpeted the wood for any careless foot to tread upon.

These dear familiar things were as grateful to Gladys as the sight of
friendly faces; and, throwing wide the doors, she knelt down to breathe
with childish eagerness the damp, fresh odors that came out to meet her.

“How sweet of him to make such a lovely nest for me, and then slip away
before I could thank him,” thought the tender-hearted creature, with
tears in the eyes that dwelt delightedly upon the tremulous maiden-hair
bending to her touch, and the sturdy grasses waking up in this new
summer.

A sound of opening doors dispelled her reverie; and with girlish
trepidation she hastened to smooth the waves of her bright hair, assume
the one pretty dress she would accept from Olivia, and clasp the bridal
pearls about her neck; then hastened down before the somewhat dreaded
Mrs. Bland appeared.

It pleased her to go wandering alone through the great house, warmed and
lighted everywhere; for Helwyze made this his world, and gathered about
him every luxury which taste, caprice, or necessity demanded. A
marvellously beautiful and varied home it seemed to simple Gladys, as
she passed from picture-gallery to music-room, eyed with artless wonder
the subdued magnificence of the _salon_, or paused enchanted in a
conservatory whose crystal walls enclosed a fairyland of bloom and
verdure.

Here and there she came upon some characteristic whim or arrangement,
which made her smile with amusement, or sigh with pity, remembering the
recluse who tried to cheer his solitude by these devices. One recess
held a single picture glowing with the warm splendor of the East. A
divan, a Persian rug, an amber-mouthed _nargileh_, and a Turkish coffee
service, all gold and scarlet, completed the illusion. In another
shadowy nook tinkled a little fountain guarded by one white-limbed
nymph, who seemed to watch with placid interest the curious
sea-creatures peopling the basin below. The third showed a study-chair,
a shaded lamp, and certain favorite books, left open, as if to be taken
up again when the mood returned. In one of these places Gladys lingered
with fresh compassion stirring at her heart, though it looked the least
inviting of them all. Behind the curtains of a window looking out upon
the broad street on which the mansion faced stood a single chair, and
nothing more.

“He shall not be so lonely now, if I can interest or amuse him,” thought
Gladys, as she looked at the worn spot in the carpet, the crumpled
cushion on the window-ledge; mute witnesses that Helwyze felt drawn
towards his kin, and found some solace in watching the activity he could
no longer share.

Knowing that she should find him in the library, where most of his time
was spent, she soon wended her way thither. The door stood hospitably
open; and, as she approached, she saw the two men standing together,
marked, as never before, the sharp contrast between them, and felt a
glow of wifely pride in the young husband whom she was learning to love
with all the ardor of a pure and tender soul.

Canaris was talking eagerly, as he turned the leaves of a thin
manuscript which lay between them. Helwyze listened, with his eyes fixed
on the speaker so intently that it startled the new-comer, when, without
a sound to warn him of her approach, he turned suddenly upon her with
the smile which dazzled without warming those on whom it was shed.

“I have been chiding this capricious fellow for the haste which spoils
the welcome I hoped to give you. But I pardon him, since he brings the
sunshine with him,” he said, going to meet her, with genuine pleasure in
his face.

“I could not have a kinder welcome, sir. I was glad to come; Felix
feared you might be needing him.”

“So duty brought him back a week too soon? A poet’s honeymoon should be
a long one; I regret to be the cause of its abridgment.”

Something in the satirical glimmer of his eye made Gladys glance at her
husband, who spoke out frankly,—

“There were other reasons. Gladys hates a crowd, and so do I. Bad
weather made it impossible to be romantic, so we thought it best to come
home and be comfortable.”

“I trust you will be; but I have little to offer, since the attractions
of half a dozen cities could not satisfy you.”

“Indeed, we should be most ungrateful if we were not happy here,” cried
Gladys, eagerly. “Only let me be useful as well as happy, else I shall
not deserve this lovely home you give us.”

“She is anxious to begin her ministrations; and I can recommend her, for
she is quick to learn one’s ways, patient with one’s whims, fruitful in
charming devices for amusement, and the best of comrades,” said Canaris,
drawing her to him with a look more grateful than fond.

“From that speech, and other signs, I infer that Felix is about to leave
me to your tender mercies, and fall to work upon his new book; since it
seems he could not resist making poetry when he should have been making
love. Are you not jealous of the rival who steals him from you, even
before the honeymoon has set?” asked Helwyze, touching the little
manuscript before him.

“Not if she makes him great, and I can make him happy,” answered Gladys,
with an air of perfect content and trust.

“I warn you that the Muse is a jealous mistress, and will often rob you
of him. Are you ready to give him up, and resign yourself to more
prosaic companionship?”

“Why need I give him up? He says I do not disturb him when he writes. He
allowed me to sit beside him while he made these lovely songs, and watch
them grow. He even let me help with a word sometimes, and I copied the
verses fairly, that he might see how beautiful they were. Did I not,
Felix?”

Gladys spoke with such innocent pride, and looked up in her husband’s
face so gratefully, that he could not but thank her with a caress, as he
said, laughing,—

“Ah, that was only play. I’ve had my holiday, and now I must work at a
task in which no one can help me. Come and see the den where I shut
myself up when the divine frenzy seizes me. Mr. Helwyze is jailer, and
only lets me out when I have done my stint.”

Full of some pleasurable excitement, Canaris led his wife across the
room, threw open a door, and bade her look in. Like a curious child, she
peeped, but saw only a small, bare _cabinet de travail_.

“No room, you see, even for a little thing like you. None dare enter
here without my keeper’s leave. Remember that, else you may fare like
Bluebeard’s Fatima.” Canaris spoke gayly, and turned a key in the door
with a warning click, as he glanced over his shoulder at Helwyze. Gladys
did not see the look, but something in his words seemed to disturb her.

“I do not like this place, it is close and dark. I think I shall not
want to come, even if you _are_ here;” and, waiting for no reply, she
stepped out from the chill of the unused room, as if glad to escape.

“Mysterious intuition! she felt that we had a skeleton in here, though
it is such a little one,” whispered Canaris, with an uneasy laugh.

“Such a sensitive plant will fare ill between us, I am afraid,” answered
Helwyze, as he followed her, leaving the other to open drawers and
settle papers, like one eager to begin his work.

Gladys was standing in the full glare of the fire, as if its cheerful
magic could exorcise all dark fancies. Helwyze eyed the white figure for
an instant, feeling that his lonely hearthstone had acquired a new
charm; then joined her, saying quietly,—

“This is the place where Felix and I have lived together for nearly two
years. Do you like it?”

“More than I can tell. It does not seem strange to me, for he has often
described it; and when I thought of coming here, I was more curious to
see this room than any other.”

“It will be all the pleasanter henceforth if Felix can spare you to me
sometimes. Come and see the corner I have prepared, hoping to tempt you
here when he shuts us out. It used to be his; so you will like it, I
think.” Helwyze paced slowly down the long room, Gladys beside him,
saying, as she looked about her hungrily,—

“So many books! and doubtless you have read them all?”

“Not quite; but you may, if you will. See, here is your place; come
often, and be sure you never will disturb me.”

But one book lay on the little table, and its white cover, silver
lettered, shone against the dark cloth so invitingly that Gladys took it
up, glowing with pleasure as she read her own name upon the volume she
knew and loved so well.

“For me? you knew that nothing else would be so beautiful and precious.
Sir, why are you so generous?”

“It amuses me to do these little things, and you must humor me, as Felix
does. You shall pay for them in your own coin, so there need be no sense
of obligation. Rest satisfied I shall get the best of the bargain.”
Before she could reply a servant appeared, announced dinner, and
vanished as noiselessly as he came.

“This has been a bachelor establishment so long that we are grown
careless. If you will pardon all deficiencies of costume, we will not
delay installing Madame Canaris in the place she does us the honor to
fill.”

“But I am not the mistress, sir. Please change nothing; my place at home
was very humble; I am afraid I cannot fill the new one as I ought,”
stammered Gladys, somewhat dismayed at the prospect which the new name
and duty suggested.

“You will have no care, except of us. Mrs. Bland keeps the machinery
running smoothly, and we lead a very quiet life. My territory ends at
that door; all beyond is yours. I chiefly haunt this wing, but sometimes
roam about below stairs a little, a very harmless ghost, so do not be
alarmed if you should meet me.”

Helwyze spoke lightly, and tapped at the door of the den as he passed.

“Come out, slave of the pen, and be fed.”

Canaris came, wearing a preoccupied air, and sauntered after them, as
Helwyze led the new mistress to her place, shy and rosy, but resolved to
do honor to her husband at all costs.

Her first act, however, gave them both a slight shock of surprise; for
the instant they were seated, Gladys laid her hands together, bent her
head, and whispered Grace, as if obeying a natural impulse to ask
Heaven’s blessing on the first bread she broke in her new home. The
effect of the devoutly simple act was characteristically shown by the
three observers. The servant paused, with an uplifted cover in his hand,
respectfully astonished; Canaris looked intensely annoyed; and Helwyze
leaned back with the suggestion of a shrug, as he glanced critically
from the dimpled hands to the nugget of gold that shone against the
bended neck. The instant she looked up, the man whisked off the silver
cover with an air of relief; Canaris fell upon his bread like a hungry
boy, and Helwyze tranquilly began to talk.

“Was the surprise Felix prepared for you a satisfactory one? Olivia and
I took pleasure in obeying his directions.”

“It was lovely! I have not thanked him yet, but I shall. You, also, sir,
in some better way than words. What made you think of it?” she asked,
looking at Canaris with a mute request for pardon of her involuntary
offence.

Glad to rush into speech, Canaris gave at some length the history of his
fancy to reproduce, as nearly as he could, the little room at home,
which she had described to him with regretful minuteness; for she had
sold every thing to pay the debts which were the sole legacy her father
left her. While they talked, Helwyze, who ate little, was observing
both. Gladys looked more girlish than ever, in spite of the mingled
dignity and anxiety her quiet but timid air betrayed. Canaris seemed in
high spirits, talking rapidly, laughing often, and glancing about him as
if glad to be again where nothing inharmonious disturbed his taste and
comfort. Not till dessert was on the table, however, did he own, in
words, the feeling of voluptuous satisfaction which was enhanced by the
memory that he had been rash enough to risk the loss of all.

“It is not so very terrible, you see, Gladys. You eat and drink like a
bird; but I know you enjoy this as much as I do, after those detestable
hotels,” he said, detecting an expression of relief in his young wife’s
face, as the noiseless servant quitted the room for the last time.

“Indeed I do. It is so pleasant to have all one’s senses gratified at
once, and the common duties of life made beautiful and easy,” answered
Gladys, surveying with feminine appreciation the well-appointed table
which had that air of accustomed elegance so grateful to fastidious
tastes.

“Ah, ha! this little ascetic of mine will become a Sybarite yet, and
agree with me that enjoyment _is_ a duty,” exclaimed Canaris, looking
very like a young Bacchus, as he held up his wine to watch its rich
color, and inhale its bouquet with zest.

“The more delicate the senses, the more delicate the delight. I suspect
Madame finds her grapes and water as delicious as you do your olives and
old wine,” said Helwyze, finding a still more refined satisfaction than
either in the pretty contrast between the purple grapes and the white
fingers that pulled them apart, the softly curling lips that were the
rosier for their temperate draughts, and the unspoiled simplicity of the
girl sitting there in pearls and shimmering silk.

“When one has known poverty, and the sad shifts which make it seem mean,
as well as hard, perhaps one does unduly value these things. I hope I
shall not; but I do find them very tempting,” she said, thoughtfully
eying the new scene in which she found herself.

Helwyze seemed to be absently listening to the musical chime of silver
against glass; but he made a note of that hope, wondering if hardship
had given her more of its austere virtue than it had her husband.

“How shall you resist temptation?” he asked, curiously.

“I shall work. This is dangerously pleasant; so let me begin at once,
and sing, while you take your coffee in the drawing-room. I know the
way; come when you will, I shall be ready;” and Gladys rose with the
energetic expression which often broke through her native gentleness.
Canaris held the door for her, and was about to resume his seat, when
Helwyze checked him:—

“We will follow at once. Was I not right in my prediction?” he asked, as
they left the room together.

“That we should soon tire of each other? You were wrong in that.”

“I meant the ease with which you would soon learn to love.”

“I have not learned—yet.”

“Then this vivacity is a cloak for the pangs of remorse, is it?” and
Helwyze laughed incredulously.

“No: it is the satisfaction I already feel in the atonement I mean to
make. I have a grand idea. _I_, too, shall work, and give Gladys reason
to be proud of me, if nothing more.”

Something of her own energy was in his mien, and it became him. But
Helwyze quenched the noble ardor by saying, coldly,—

“I see: it is the old passion under a new name. May your virtuous
aspirations be blest!”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  IX.


Helwyze was right, and Canaris found that his sudden marriage did
stimulate public interest wonderfully. There had always been something
mysterious about this brilliant young man and his relations with his
patron; who was as silent as the Sphinx regarding his past, and
tantalizingly enigmatical about his plans and purposes for the future.
The wildest speculations were indulged in: many believed them to be
father and son; others searched vainly for the true motive of this
charitable caprice; and every one waited with curiosity to see the end
of it. All of which much amused Helwyze, who cared nothing for the
world’s opinion, and found his sense of humor tickled by the ludicrous
idea of himself in the new _rôle_ of benefactor.

The romance seemed quite complete when it was known that the young poet
had brought home a wife whose talent, youth, and isolation seemed to
render her peculiarly fitted for his mate.

Though love was lacking, vanity was strong in Canaris, and this was
gratified by the commendation bestowed on the new ornament he wore; for
as such simple Gladys was considered, and shone with reflected lustre,
her finer gifts and graces quite eclipsed by his more conspicuous and
self-asserting ones.

With unquestioning docility she gave herself into his hands, following
where he led her, obeying his lightest wish, and loving him with a
devotion which kept alive regretful tenderness when it should have
cherished a loyal love. He gladly took her into all the gayety which for
a time surrounded them, and she enjoyed it with a girl’s fresh delight.
He showed her wise and witty people whom she admired or loved; and she
looked and listened with an enthusiast’s wonder. He gave her all he had
to give, novelty and pleasure; though the one had lost its gloss for
him, and too much of the other he was forced to accept from Helwyze’s
hands. But through all the experiences that now rapidly befell her,
Gladys was still herself; innocently happy, stanchly true,
characteristically independent, a mountain stream, keeping its waters
pure and bright, though mingled with the swift and turbid river which
was hurrying it toward the sea.

Curiosity being satisfied, society soon found some fresher novelty to
absorb it. Women still admired Canaris, but marriage lessened his
attractions for them; men still thought him full of promise, but were
fast forgetting the first successful effort which had won their
applause; and the young lion found that he must roar loud and often, if
he would not be neglected. Shutting himself into his cell, he worked
with hopeful energy for several months, often coming out weary, but
excited, with the joyful labor of creation. At such times there was no
prose anywhere; for heaven and earth were glorified by the light of that
inner world, where imagination reigns, and all things are divine. Then
he would be in the gayest spirits, and carry Gladys off to some hour of
pleasant relaxation at theatre, opera, or ball, where flattery refreshed
or emulation inspired him; and next day would return to his task with
redoubled vigor.

At other times his fickle mistress deserted him; thought would not soar,
language would not sing, poetry fled, and life was unutterably “flat,
stale, and unprofitable.” Then it was Gladys, who took possession of
him; lured him out for a brisk walk, or a long drive into a wholesomer
world than that into which he took her; sung weary brain to sleep with
the sweetest lullabies of brother bards; or made him merry by the
display of a pretty wit, which none but he knew she could exert. With
wifely patience and womanly tact she managed her wayward but beloved
lord, till despondency yielded to her skill, and the buoyant spirit of
hope took him by the hand, and led him to his work again.

In the intervals between these fits of intellectual intoxication and
succeeding depression, Gladys devoted herself to Helwyze with a
faithfulness which surprised him and satisfied her; for, as she said,
her “bread tasted bitter if she did not earn it.” He had expected to be
amused, perhaps interested, but not so charmed, by this girl, who
possessed only a single talent, a modest share of beauty, and a mind as
untrained as a beautiful but neglected garden. This last was the real
attraction; for, finding her hungry for knowledge, he did not hesitate
to test her taste and try her mental mettle, by allowing her free range
of a large and varied library. Though not a scholar, in the learned
sense of the word, he had the eager, sceptical nature which interrogates
all things, yet believes only in itself. This had kept him roaming
solitarily up and down the earth for years, observing men and manners;
now it drove him to books; and, as suffering and seclusion wrought upon
body and brain, his choice of mute companions changed from the higher,
healthier class to those who, like himself, leaned towards the darker,
sadder side of human nature. Lawless here, as elsewhere, he let his mind
wander at will, as once he had let his heart, learning too late that
both are sacred gifts, and cannot safely be tampered with.

All was so fresh and wonderful to Gladys, that her society grew very
attractive to him; and pleasant as it was to have her wait upon him with
quiet zeal, or watch her busied in her own corner, studying, or sewing
with the little basket beside her which gave such a homelike air, it was
still pleasanter to have her sit and read to him, while he watched this
face, so intelligent, yet so soft; studied this mind, at once sensitive
and sagacious, this nature, both serious and ardent. It gave a curious
charm to his old favorites when she read them; and many hours he
listened contentedly to the voice whose youth made Montaigne’s worldly
wisdom seem the shrewder; whose music gave a certain sweetness to
Voltaire’s bitter wit or Carlyle’s rough wisdom; whose pitying wonder
added pathos to the melancholy brilliancy of Heine and De Quincy.
Equally fascinating to him, and far more dangerous to her, were George
Sand’s passionate romances, Goethe’s dramatic novels, Hugo and Sue’s
lurid word-pictures of suffering and sin; the haunted world of
Shakespeare and Dante, the poetry of Byron, Browning, and Poe.

Rich food and strong wine for a girl of eighteen; and Gladys soon felt
the effects of such a diet, though it was hard to resist when duty
seconded inclination, and ignorance hid the peril. She often paused to
question with eager lips, to wipe wet eyes, to protest with indignant
warmth, or to shiver with the pleasurable pain of a child who longs, yet
dreads, to hear an exciting story to the end. Helwyze answered
willingly, if not always wisely; enjoyed the rapid unfolding of the
woman, and would not deny himself any indulgence of this new whim,
though conscious that the snow-drop, transplanted suddenly from the free
fresh spring-time, could not live in this close air without suffering.

This was the double life Gladys now began to lead. Heart and mind were
divided between the two, who soon absorbed every feeling, every thought.
To the younger man she was a teacher, to the elder a pupil; in the one
world she ruled, in the other served; unconsciously Canaris stirred
emotion to its depths, consciously Helwyze stimulated intellect to its
heights; while the soul of the woman, receiving no food from either,
seemed to sit apart in the wilderness of its new experience, tempted by
evil as well as sustained by good spirits, who guard their own.

One evening this divided mastery was especially felt by Helwyze, who
watched the young man’s influence over his wife with a mixture of
interest and something like jealousy, as it was evidently fast becoming
stronger than his own. Sitting in his usual place, he saw Gladys flit
about the room, brushing up the hearth, brightening the lamps, and
putting by the finished books, as if the day’s duties were all done, the
evening’s rest and pleasure honestly earned, eagerly waited for. He well
knew that this pleasure consisted in carrying Canaris away to her own
domain; or, if that were impossible, she would sit silently looking at
him while he read or talked in his fitful fashion on any subject his
master chose to introduce.

The desire to make her forget the husband whose neglect would have
sorely grieved her if his genius had not been his excuse in her eyes for
many faults, possessed Helwyze that night; and he amused himself by the
effort, becoming more intent with each failure.

As the accustomed hour drew near, Gladys took her place on the footstool
before the chair set ready for Felix, and fell a musing, with her eyes
on the newly replenished fire. Above, the unignited fuel lay black and
rough, with here and there a deep rift opening to the red core beneath;
while to and fro danced many colored flames, as if bent on some eager
quest. Many flashed up the chimney, and were gone; others died
solitarily in dark corners, where no heat fed them; and some vanished
down the chasms, to the fiery world below. One golden spire, tremulous
and translucent, burned with a brilliance which attracted the eye; and,
when a wandering violet flame joined it, Gladys followed their motions
with interest, seeing in them images of Felix and herself, for childish
fancy and womanly insight met and mingled in all she thought and felt.

Forgetting that she was not alone, she leaned forward, to watch what
became of them, as the wedded flames flickered here and there, now
violet, now yellow. But the brighter always seemed the stronger, and the
sad-colored one to grow more and more golden, as if yielding to its
sunshiny mate.

“I hope they will fly up together, out into the wide, starry sky, which
is their eternity, perhaps,” she thought, smiling at her own eagerness.

But no; the golden flame flew up, and left the other to take on many
shapes and colors, as it wandered here and there, till, just as it
glowed with a splendid crimson, Gladys was forced to hide her dazzled
eyes and look no more. Turning her flushed face away, she found Helwyze
watching her as intently as she had watched the fire, and, reminded of
his presence, she glanced toward the empty chair with an impatient sigh
for Felix.

“You are tired,” he said, answering the sigh. “Mrs. Bland told me what a
notable housewife you are, and how you helped her set the upper regions
to rights to-day. I fear you did too much.”

“Oh, no, I enjoyed it heartily. I asked for something to do, and she
allowed me to examine and refold the treasures you keep in the great
carved wardrobe, lest moths or damp or dust had hurt the rich stuffs,
curious coins, and lovely ornaments stored there. I never saw so many
pretty things before,” she answered, betraying, by her sudden animation,
the love of “pretty things,” which is one of the strongest of feminine
foibles.

He smiled, well pleased.

“Olivia calls that quaint press from Brittany my bazaar, for there I
have collected the spoils of my early wanderings; and when I want a
_cadeau_ for a fair friend, I find it without trouble. I saw in what
exquisite order you left my shelves, and, as you were not with me to
choose, I brought away several trifles, more curious than costly, hoping
to find a thank-offering among them.”

As he spoke, he opened one of the deep drawers in the writing-table, as
if to produce some gift. But Gladys said, hastily,—

“You are very kind, sir; but these fine things are altogether too grand
for me. The pleasure of looking at and touching them is reward enough;
unless you will tell me about them: it must be interesting to know what
places they came from.”

Feeling in the mood for it, Helwyze described to her an Eastern bazaar,
so graphically that she soon forgot Felix, and sat looking up as if she
actually saw and enjoyed the splendors he spoke of. Lustrous silks
sultanas were to wear; misty muslins, into whose embroidery some
dark-skinned woman’s life was wrought; cashmeres, many-hued as rainbows;
odorous woods and spices, that filled the air with fragrance never blown
from Western hills; amber, like drops of frozen sunshine; fruits, which
brought visions of vineyards, olive groves, and lovely palms dropping
their honeyed clusters by desert wells; skins mooned and barred with
black upon the tawny velvet, that had lain in jungles, or glided with
deathful stealthiness along the track of human feet; ivory tusks that
had felled Asiatic trees, gored fierce enemies, or meekly lifted princes
to their seats.

These, and many more, he painted rapidly; and, as he ended, shook out of
its folds a gauzy fabric, starred with silver, which he threw over her
head, pointing to the mirror set in the door of the _armoire_ behind
her.

“See if that is not too pretty to refuse. Felix would surely be inspired
if you appeared before him shimmering like Suleika, when Hatem says to
her,—

        “‘Here, take this, with the pure and silver streaking,
          And wind it, Darling, round and round for me;
        What is your Highness? Style scarce worth the speaking,
          When thou dost look, I am as great as He.’”

Gladys did look, and saw how beautiful it made her; but, though she did
not understand the words he quoted, the names suggested a sultan and his
slave, and she did not like either the idea or the expression with which
Helwyze regarded her. Throwing off the gauzy veil, she refolded and put
it by, saying, in that decided little way of hers, which was prettier
than petulance,—

“My Hatem does not need that sort of inspiration, and had rather see his
Suleika in a plain gown of his choosing, than dressed in all the
splendors of the East by any other hand.”

“Come, then, we must find some better _souvenir_ of your visit, for I
never let any one go away empty-handed;” with that he dipped again into
the drawer, and held up a pretty bracelet, explaining, as he offered it
with unruffled composure, though she eyed it askance, attracted, yet
reluctant, a charming picture of doubt and desire,—

“Here are the Nine Muses, cut in many-tinted lava. See how well the
workman suited the color to the attribute of each Muse. Urania is blue;
Erato, this soft pink; Terpsichore, violet; Euterpe and Thalia, black
and white; and the others, these fine shades of yellow, dun, and drab.
That pleases you, I know; so let me put it on.”

It did please her; and she stretched out her hand to accept it,
gratified, yet conscious all the while of the antagonistic spirit which
often seized her when with Helwyze. He put on the bracelet with a
satisfied air; but the clasp was imperfect, and, at the first turn of
the round wrist, the Nine Muses fell to the ground.

“It is too heavy. I am not made to wear handcuffs of any sort, you see:
they will not stay on, so it is of no use to try;” and Gladys picked up
the trinket with an odd sense of relief; though poor Erato was cracked,
and Thalia, like Fielding’s fair Amelia, had a broken nose. She rose to
lay it on the table, and, as she turned away, her eye went to the clock,
as if reproaching herself for that brief forgetfulness of her husband.
Half amused, half annoyed, and bent on having his own way, even in so
small a thing as this, Helwyze drew up a chair, and, setting a Japanese
tray upon the table, said, invitingly,—

“Come and see if these are more to your taste, since fine raiment and
foolish ornaments fail to tempt you.”

“Oh, how curious and beautiful!” cried Gladys, looking down upon a
collection of Hindoo gods and goddesses, in ebony or ivory: some
hideous, some lovely, all carved with wonderful delicacy, and each with
its appropriate symbol,—Vishnu, and his serpent; Brahma, in the sacred
lotus; Siva, with seven faces; Kreeshna, the destroyer, with many
mouths; Varoon, god of the ocean; and Kama, the Indian Cupid, bearing
his bow of sugar-cane strung with bees, to typify love’s sting as well
as sweetness. This last Gladys examined longest, and kept in her hand as
if it charmed her; for the minute face of the youth was beautiful, the
slender figure full of grace, and the ivory spotless.

“You choose him for your idol? and well you may, for he looks like
Felix. Mine, if I have one, is Siva, goddess of Fate, ugly, but
powerful.”

“I will have no idol,—not even Felix, though I sometimes fear I may make
one of him before I know it;” and Gladys put back the little figure with
a guilty look, as she confessed the great temptation that beset her.

“You are wise: idols are apt to have feet of clay, and tumble down in
spite of our blind adoration. Better be a Buddhist, and have no god but
our own awakened thought; ‘the highest wisdom,’ as it is called,” said
Helwyze, who had lately been busy with the Sâkya Muni, and regarded all
religions with calm impartiality.

“These are false gods, and we are done with them, since we know the true
one,” began Gladys, understanding him; for she had read aloud the life
of Gautama Buddha, and enjoyed it as a legend; while he found its mystic
symbolism attractive, and nothing repellent in its idolatry.

“But do we? How can you prove it?”

“It needs no proving; the knowledge of it was born in me, grows with my
growth, and is the life of my life,” cried Gladys, out of the fulness of
that natural religion which requires no revelation except such as
experience brings to strengthen and purify it.

“All are not so easily satisfied as you,” he said, in the sceptical tone
which always tried both her patience and her courage; for, woman-like,
she could feel the truth of things, but could not reason about them. He
saw her face kindle, and added, rapidly, having a mind to try how firmly
planted the faith of the pretty Puritan was: “Most of us agree that
Allah exists in some form or other, but we fall out about who is the
true Prophet. You choose Jesus of Nazareth for yours; I rather incline
to this Indian Saint. They are not unlike: this Prince left all to
devote his life to the redemption of mankind, suffered persecutions and
temptations, had his disciples, and sent out the first apostles of whom
we hear; was a teacher, with his parables, miracles, and belief in
transmigration or immortality. His doctrine is almost the same as the
other; and the six virtues which secure Nirvâna, or Heaven, are charity,
purity, patience, courage, contemplation, and wisdom. Come, why not take
him for a model?”

Gladys listened with a mixture of perplexity and pain in her face, and
her hand went involuntarily to the little cross which she always wore;
but, though her eye was troubled, her voice was steady, as she answered,
earnestly,—

“Because I have a nobler one. My Prince left a greater throne than yours
to serve mankind; suffered and resisted more terrible persecution and
temptation; sent out wiser apostles, taught clearer truth, and preached
an immortality for all. Yours died peacefully in the arms of his
friends, mine on a cross; and, though he came later, he has saved more
souls than Buddha. Sir, I know little about those older religions; I am
not wise enough even to argue about my own: I can only believe in it,
love it, and hold fast to it, since it is all I need.”

“How can you tell till you try others? This, now, is a fine one, if we
are not too bigoted to look into it fairly. Wise men, who have done so,
say that no faith—not even the Christian—has exercised so powerful an
influence on the diminution of crime as the old, simple doctrine of
Sâkya Muni; and this is the only great historic religion that has not
taken the sword to put down its enemies. Can you say as much for yours?”

“No; but it is worth fighting for, and I _would_ fight, as the Maid of
Orleans did for France, for this is my country. Can you say of _your_
faith that it sustained you in sorrow, made you happy in loneliness,
saved you from temptation, taught, guided, blessed you day by day with
unfailing patience, wisdom, and love? I think you cannot; then why try
to take mine away till you can give me a better?”

Seldom was Gladys so moved as now, for she felt as if he was about to
meddle with her holy of holies; and, without stopping to reason, she
resisted the attempt, sure that he would harm, not help, her, since
neither his words nor example had done Felix any good.

Helwyze admired her all the more for her resistance, and thought her
unusually lovely, as she stood there flushed and fervent with her plea
for the faith that was so dear to her.

“Why, indeed! You would make an excellent martyr, and enjoy it. Pity
that you have no chance of it, and so of being canonized as a saint
afterward. That is decidedly your line. Then, you won’t have any of my
gods? not even this one?” he asked, holding up the handsome Kama, with a
smile.

“No, not even that. I will have only one God, and you may keep your
idols for those who believe in them. My faith may not be the oldest, but
it _is_ the best, if one may judge of the two religions by the happiness
and peace they give,” answered Gladys, taking refuge in a very womanly,
yet most convincing, argument, she thought, as she pointed to the
mirror, which reflected both figures in its clear depths.

Helwyze looked, and though without an atom of vanity, the sight could
not but be trying, the contrast was so great between her glad, young
face, and his, so melancholy and prematurely old.

“Satma, Tama—Truth and Darkness,” he muttered to himself; adding aloud,
with a vengeful sort of satisfaction in shocking her pious nature,—

“But _I_ have no religion; so that defiant little speech is quite thrown
away, my friend.”

It did shock her; for, though she had suspected the fact, there was
something dreadful in hearing him confess it, in a tone which proved his
sincerity.

“Mr. Helwyze, do you really mean that you believe in nothing invisible
and divine? no life beyond this? no God, no Christ to bless and save?”
she asked, hardly knowing how to put the question, as she drew back
dismayed, but still incredulous.

“Yes.”

He was both surprised, and rather annoyed, to find that it cost him an
effort to give even that short answer, with those innocent eyes looking
so anxiously up at him, full of a sad wonder, then dim with sudden dew,
as she said eagerly, forgetting every thing but a great compassion,—

“O sir, it is impossible! You think so now; but when you love and trust
some human creature more than yourself, then you will find that you do
believe in Him who gives such happiness, and be glad to own it.”

“Perhaps. Meantime _you_ will not make me happy by letting me give you
any thing; why is it, Gladys?”

The black brows were knit, and he looked impatient with himself or her.
She saw it, and exclaimed with the sweetest penitence,—

“Give me your pardon for speaking so frankly. I mean no disrespect; but
I cannot help it when you say such things, though I know that gratitude
should keep me silent.”

“I like it. Do not take yourself to task for that, or trouble about me.
There are many roads, and sooner or later we shall all reach heaven, I
suppose,—if there is one,” he added, with a shrug, which spoiled the
smile that went before.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   X.


Gladys stood silent for a moment, with her eyes fixed on the little
figures, longing for wisdom to convince this man, whom she regarded with
mingled pity, admiration and distrust, that he could not walk by his own
light alone. He guessed the impulse that kept her there, longed to have
her stay, and felt a sudden desire to reinstate himself in her good
opinion. That wish, or the hope to keep her by some new and still more
powerful allurement, seemed to actuate him as he hastily thrust the gods
and goddesses out of sight, and opened another drawer, with a quick
glance over his shoulder towards that inner room.

At that instant the clock struck, and Gladys started, saying, in a tone
of fond despair,—

“Where _is_ Felix? Will he never come?”

“I heard him raging about some time ago, but perfect silence followed,
so I suspect he caught the tormenting word, idea, or fancy, and is busy
pinning it,” answered Helwyze, shutting the drawer as suddenly as he
opened it, with a frown which Gladys did not see; for she had turned
away, forgetting him and his salvation in the one absorbing interest of
her life.

“How long it takes to write a poem! Three whole months, for he began in
September; and it was not to be a long one, he said.”

“He means this to be a masterpiece, so labors like a galley-slave, and
can find no rest till it is done. Good practice, but to little purpose,
I am afraid. Poetry, even the best, is not profitable now-a-days, I am
told,” added Helwyze, speaking with a sort of satisfaction which he
could not conceal.

“Who cares for the profit? It is the fame Felix wants, and works for,”
answered Gladys, defending the absent with wifely warmth.

“True, but he would not reject the fortune if it came. He is not one of
the ethereal sort, who can live on glory and a crust; his gingerbread
must not only be gilded, but solid and well-spiced beside. You adore
your poet, respect also the worldly wisdom of your spouse, madame.”

When Helwyze sneered, Gladys was silent; so now she mused again, leaning
on the high back of the chair which she longed to see occupied. He mused
also, with his eyes upon the fire, fingers idly tapping, and a furtive
smile round his mouth, as if some purpose was taking shape in that busy
brain of his. Suddenly he spoke, in a tone of kindly interest, well
knowing where her thoughts were, and anxious to end her weary waiting.

“Perhaps the poor fellow has fallen asleep, tired out with striving
after immortality. Go and wake him, if you will, for it is time he
rested.”

“May I? He does not like to be disturbed; but I fear he is ill: he has
eaten scarcely any thing for days, and looks so pale it troubles me. I
will peep first; and if he is busy, creep away without a word.”

Stepping toward the one forbidden, yet most fascinating spot in all the
house, she softly opened the door and looked in. Canaris was there,
apparently asleep, as Helwyze thought; for his head lay on his folded
arms as if both were weary. Glancing over her shoulder with a nod and a
smile, Gladys went in, anxious to wake and comfort him; for the little
room looked solitary, dark, and cold, with dead ashes on the hearth, the
student lamp burning dimly, and the food she had brought him hours ago
still standing untasted, among the blotted sheets strewn all about. At
her first touch he looked up, and she was frightened by the expression
of his face, it was so desperately miserable.

“Dear, what is it?” she asked, quickly, with her arms about him, as if
defying the unknown trouble to reach him there.

“Disappointment,—nothing else;” and he leaned his head against her,
grateful for sympathy, since she could give no other help.

“You mean your book, which does not satisfy you even yet?” she said,
interpreting the significance of the weary, yet restless, look he wore.

“It never will! I have toiled and tried, with all my heart and soul and
mind, if ever a man did; but I cannot do it, Gladys. It torments me, and
I cannot escape from it; because, though it is all here in my brain, it
_will not_ be expressed in words.”

“Do not try any more; rest now, and by and by, perhaps, it will be
easier. You have worked too hard, and are worn out; forget the book, and
come and let me take care of you. It breaks my heart to see you so.”

“I was doing it for your sake,—all for you; and I thought this time it
would be very good, since my purpose was a just and generous one. But it
is not, and I hate it!”

With a passionate gesture, Canaris hurled a pile of manuscript into the
further corner of the room, and pushed his wife from him, as if she too
were an affliction and a disappointment. It grieved her bitterly; but
she would not be repulsed; and, holding fast in both her own the hand
that was about to grasp another sheaf of papers, she cried, with a tone
of tender authority, which both controlled and touched him,—

“No, no, you shall not, Felix! Put me away, but do not spoil the book;
it has cost us both too much.”

“Not you; forgive me, it is myself with whom I am vexed;” and Canaris
penitently kissed the hands that held his, remembering that she could
not know the true cause of his effort and regret.

“I _shall_ be jealous, if I find that I have given you up so long in
vain. I must have something to repay me for the loss of your society all
this weary time. I have worked to fill your place: give me my reward.”

“Have you missed me, then? I thought you happy enough with Helwyze and
the books.”

“Missed you! happy enough! O Felix! you do not know me, if you think I
_can_ be happy without you. He is kind, but only a friend; and all the
books in the wide world are not as much to me as the one you treat so
cruelly.” She clasped tightly the hands she held, and looked into his
face with eyes full of unutterable love. Such tender flattery could not
but soothe, such tearful reproach fail to soften, a far prouder, harder
man than Canaris.

“What reward will you have?” he asked, making an effort to be cheerful
for her sake.

“Eat, drink, and rest; then read me every word you have written. I am no
critic; but I would try to be impartial: love makes even the ignorant
wise, and I shall see the beauty which I know is in it.”

“I put you there, or tried; so truth and beauty should be in it. Some
time you shall hear it, but not now. I could not read it to-night,
perhaps never; it is such a poor, pale shadow of the thing I meant it to
be.”

“Let me read it,” said a voice behind them; and Helwyze stood upon the
threshold, wearing his most benignant aspect.

“You?” ejaculated Canaris; while Gladys shrunk a little, as if the
proposition did not please her.

“Why not? Young poets never read their own verses well; yet what could
be more soothing to the most timorous or vain than to hear them read by
an admiring and sympathetic friend? Come, let me have my reward, as well
as Gladys;” and Helwyze laid his hand upon the unscattered pile of
manuscript.

“A penance, rather. It is so blurred, so rough, you could not read it;
then the fatigue,”—began Canaris, pleased, yet reluctant still.

“I can read any thing, make rough places smooth, and not tire, for I
have a great interest in this story. He has shown me some of it, and it
_is_ good.”

Helwyze spoke to Gladys, and his last words conquered her reluctance,
whetted her curiosity; he looked at Canaris, and his glance inspired
hope, his offer tempted, for his voice could make music of any thing,
his praise would be both valuable and cheering.

“Let him, Felix, since he is so kind, I so impatient that I do not want
to wait;” and Gladys went to gather up the leaves, which had flown
wildly about the room.

“Leave those, I will sort them while you begin. The first part is all
here. I am sick of it, and so will you be, before you are through. Go,
love, or I may revoke permission, and make the bonfire yet.”

Canaris laughed as he waved her away; and Gladys, seeing that the cloud
had lifted, willingly obeyed, lingering only to give a touch to the
dainty luncheon, which was none the worse for being cold.

“Dear, eat and drink, then _my_ feast will be the sweeter.”

“I will; I’ll eat and drink stupendously when you are gone; I wish you
_bon appetit_,” he said, filling the glass, and smiling as he drank.

Contented now, Gladys hurried away, to find Helwyze already seated by
the study-table, with the manuscript laid open before him. He looked up,
wearing an expression of such pleasurable excitement, that it augured
well for what was coming, and she slipped into the chair beside the one
set ready for Canaris on the opposite side of the hearth, still hoping
he would come and take it. Helwyze began, and soon she forgot every
thing,—carried away by the smoothly flowing current of the story which
he read so well. A metrical romance, such as many a lover might have
imagined in the first inspiration of the great passion, but few could
have painted with such skill. A very human story, but all the truer and
sweeter for that fact. The men and women in it were full of vitality and
color; their faces spoke, hearts beat, words glowed; and they seemed to
live before the listener’s eye, as if endowed with eloquent flesh and
blood.

Gladys forgot their creator utterly, but Helwyze did not; and even while
reading on with steadily increasing effect, glanced now and then towards
that inner room, where, after a moment of unnecessary bustle, perfect
silence reigned. Presently a shadow flickered on the ceiling, a shadow
bent as if listening eagerly, though not a sound betrayed its approach
as it seemed to glide and vanish behind the tall screen which stood
before the door. Gladys saw nothing, her face being intent upon the
reader, her thoughts absorbed in following the heart-history of the
woman in whom she could not help finding a likeness to herself.

Helwyze saw the shadow, however, and laughed inwardly, as if to see the
singer irresistibly drawn by his own music. But no visible smile
betrayed this knowledge; and the tale went on with deepening power and
pathos, till at its most passionate point he paused.

“Go on; oh, pray go on!” cried Gladys, breathlessly.

“Are you not tired of it?” asked Helwyze; with a keen look.

“No, no! You are? Then let me read.”

“Not I; but there is no more here. Ask Felix if we _may_ go on.”

“I must! I will! Where is he?” and Gladys hurried round the screen, to
find Canaris flung down anyway upon a seat, looking almost as excited as
herself.

“Ah,” she cried, delightedly, “you could not keep away! You know that it
is good, and you are glad and proud, although you will not own it.”

“Am I? Are you?” he asked, reading the answer in her face, before she
could whisper, with the look of mingled awe and adoration which she
always wore when speaking of him as a poet,—

“Never can I tell you what I feel. It almost frightens me to find how
well you know me and yourself, and other hearts like ours. What gives
you this wonderful power, and shows you how to use it?”

“Don’t praise it too much, or I shall wish I had destroyed, instead of
re-sorting, the second part for you to hear.” Canaris spoke almost
roughly, and rose, as if about to go and do it now. But Gladys caught
his hand, saying gayly, as she drew him out into the fire-light with
persuasive energy,—

“That you shall never do; but come and enjoy it with us. You need not be
so modest, for you know you like it. Now I am perfectly happy.”

She looked so, as she saw her husband sink into the tall-backed chair,
and took her place beside him, laughing at the almost comic mixture of
sternness, resignation, and impatience betrayed by his set lips, silent
acquiescence, and excited eyes.

“Now we are ready;” and Gladys folded her hands with the rapturous
contentment of a child at its first fairy spectacle.

“All but the story. I will fetch it;” and Helwyze stepped quickly behind
the screen before either could stir.

Gladys half rose, but Canaris drew her down again, whispering, in an
almost resentful tone,—

“Let him, if he will; you wait on him too much. I put the papers in
order; he will read them easily enough.”

“Nay, do not be angry, dear; he does it to please me, and surely no one
could read it better. I know you would feel too much to do it well,” she
answered, her hand in his, with its most soothing touch.

There was no time for more. Helwyze returned, and, after a hasty
resettling of the manuscript, read on, without pausing, to the story’s
end, as if unconscious of fatigue, and bent on doing justice to the
power of the _protégé_ whose success was his benefactor’s best reward.
At first, Gladys glanced at her husband from time to time; but presently
the living man beside her grew less real than that other, who, despite a
new name and country, strange surroundings, and far different
circumstances, was so unmistakably the same, that she could not help
feeling and following his fate to its close, with an interest almost as
intense as if, in very truth, she saw Canaris going to his end. Her
interest in the woman lessened, and was lost in her eagerness to have
the hero worthy of the love she gave, the honor others felt for him;
and, when the romance brought him to defeat and death, she was so
wrought upon by this illusion, that she fell into a passion of sudden
tears, weeping as she had never wept before.

Felix sat motionless, his hand over his eyes, lips closely folded, lest
they should betray too much emotion; the irresistible conviction that it
_was_ good, strengthening every instant, till he felt only the
fascination and excitement of an hour, which foretold others even more
delicious. When the tale ended, the melodious voice grew silent, and
nothing was heard but the eloquent sobbing of a woman. Words seemed
unnecessary, and none were uttered for several minutes, then Helwyze
asked briefly,—

“Shall we burn it?”

As briefly Canaris answered “No;” and Gladys, quickly recovering the
self-control so seldom lost, looked up with “a face, clear shining after
rain,” as she said in the emphatic tone of deepest feeling,—

“It would be like burning a live thing. But, Felix, you must not kill
that man: I cannot have him die so. Let him live to conquer all his
enemies, the worst in himself; then, if you must end tragically, let the
woman go; she would not care, if he were safe.”

“But she is the heroine of the piece; and, if it does not end with her
lamenting over the fallen hero, the dramatic point is lost,” said
Helwyze; for Canaris had sprung up, and was walking restlessly about the
room, as if the spirits he had evoked were too strong to be laid even by
himself.

“I know nothing about that; but I feel the moral point would be lost, if
it is not changed. Surely, powerful as pity is, a lofty admiration is
better; and this poem would be nobler, in every way, if that man ends by
living well, than by dying ignominiously in spite of his courage. I
cannot explain it, but I am sure it is so; and I will not let Felix
spoil his best piece of work by such a mistake.”

“Then you like it? You would be happy if I changed and let it go before
the world, for your sake more than for my own?”

Canaris paused beside her, pale with some emotion stronger than
gratified vanity or ambitious hope. Gladys thought it was love; and,
carried out of herself by the tender pride that overflowed her heart and
would not be controlled, she let an action, more eloquent than any
words, express the happiness she was the first to feel, the homage she
would be the first to pay. Kneeling before him, she clasped her hands
together, and looked up at him with cheeks still wet, lips still
tremulous, eyes still full of wonder, admiration, fervent gratitude, and
love.

In one usually so self-restrained as Gladys such joyful abandonment was
doubly captivating and impressive. Canaris felt it so; and, lifting her
up, pressed her to a heart whose loud throbbing thanked her, even while
he gently turned her face away, as if he could not bear to see and
receive such worship from so pure a source. The unexpected humility in
his voice touched her strangely, and made her feel more deeply than ever
how genuine was the genius which should yet make him great, as well as
beloved.

“I will do what you wish, for you see more clearly than I. You _shall_
be happy, and I _will_ be proud of doing it, even if no one else sees
any good in my work.”

“They will! they must! It may not be the grandest thing you will ever
do, but it is so human, it cannot fail to touch and charm; and to me
that is as great an act as to astonish or dazzle by splendid learning or
wonderful wit. Make it noble as well as beautiful, then people will love
as well as praise you.”

“I will try, Gladys. I see now what I should have written, and—if I
can—it shall be done.”

“I promised you inspiration, you remember: have I not kept my word?”
asked Helwyze, forgotten, and content to be forgotten, until now.

Canaris looked up quickly; but there was no gratitude in his face, as he
answered, with his hand on the head he pressed against his shoulder, and
a certain subdued passion in his voice,—

“You have: not the highest inspiration; but, if _she_ is happy, it will
atone for much.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XI.


And Gladys _was_ happy for a little while. Canaris labored doggedly till
all was finished as she wished. Helwyze lent the aid which commands
celerity; and early in the new year the book came out, to win for itself
and its author the admiration and regard she had prophesied. But while
the outside world, with which she had little to do except through her
husband, rejoiced over him and his work, she, in her own small world,
where he was all in all, was finding cause to wonder and grieve at the
change which took place in him.

“I have done my task, now let me play,” he said; and play he did, quite
as energetically as he had worked, though to far less purpose. Praise
seemed to intoxicate him, for he appeared to forget every thing else,
and bask in its sunshine, as if he never could have enough of it. His
satisfaction would have been called egregious vanity, had it not been so
gracefully expressed, and the work done so excellent that all agreed the
young man had a right to be proud of it, and enjoy his reward as he
pleased. He went out much, being again caressed and fêted to his heart’s
content, leaving Gladys to amuse Helwyze; for a very little of this sort
of gayety satisfied her, and there was something painful to her in the
almost feverish eagerness with which her husband sought and enjoyed
excitement of all kinds. Glad and proud though she was, it troubled her
to see him as utterly engrossed as if existence had no higher aim than
the most refined and varied pleasure; and she began to feel that, though
the task was done, she had not got him back again from that other
mistress, who seemed to have bewitched him with her dazzling charms.

“He will soon have enough of it, and return to us none the worse.
Remember how young he is; how natural that he should love pleasure
overmuch, when he gets it, since he has had so little hitherto,” said
Helwyze, answering the silent trouble in the face of Gladys; for she
never spoke of her daily increasing anxiety.

“But it does not seem to make him happy; and for that reason I sometimes
think it cannot be the best kind of pleasure for him,” answered Gladys,
remembering how flushed and weary he had been when he came in last
night, so late that it was nearly dawn.

“He is one who will taste all kinds, and not be contented till he has
had his fill. Roaming about Europe with that bad, brilliant father of
his gave him glimpses of many things which he was too poor to enjoy
then, but not too young to remember and desire now, when it is possible
to gratify the wish. Let him go, he will come back to you when he is
tired. It is the only way to manage him, I find.”

But Gladys did not think so; and, finding that Helwyze would not speak,
she resolved that she would venture to do it, for many things disturbed
her, which wifely loyalty forbade her to repeat; as well as a feeling
that Helwyze would not see cause for anxiety in her simple fears, since
he encouraged Felix in this reckless gayety.

Some hours later, she found Canaris newly risen, sitting at his
_escritoire_ in their own room, with a strew of gold and notes before
him, which he affected to be counting busily; though when she entered
she had seen him in a despondent attitude, doing nothing.

“How pale you look. Why will you stay so late and get these weary
headaches?” she asked, stroking the thick locks off his forehead with a
caressing touch.

                “‘Too late I stayed, forgive the crime;
                  Unheeded flew the hours;
                For lightly falls the foot of time,
                  That only treads on flowers.’”

sang Canaris, looking up at her with an assumption of mirth, sadder than
the melancholy which it could not wholly hide.

“You make light of it, Felix; but I am sure you will fall ill, if you do
not get more sleep and quieter dreams,” she said, still smoothing the
glossy dark rings of which she was so proud.

“_Cara mia_, what do you know about my dreams?” he asked, with a hint of
surprise in the manner, which was still careless.

“You toss about, and talk so wildly sometimes, that it troubles me to
hear you.”

“I will stop it at once. What do I talk about? Something amusing, I
hope,” he asked, quickly.

“That I cannot tell, for you speak in French or Italian; but you sigh
terribly, and often seem angry or excited about something.”

“That is odd. I do not remember my dreams, but it is little wonder my
poor wits are distraught, after all they have been through lately. Did I
talk last night, and spoil your sleep, love?” asked Canaris, idly piling
up a little heap of coins, though listening intently for her reply.

“Yes: you seemed very busy, and said more than once, ‘Le jeu est fait,
rien ne va plus.’ ‘Rouge gagne et couleur,’—or, ‘Rouge perd et couleur
gagne.’ I know what those words mean, because I have read them in a
novel; and they trouble me from your lips, Felix.”

“I must have been dreaming of a week I once spent in Homberg, with my
father. We don’t do that sort of thing here.”

“Not under the same name, perhaps. Dear, do you ever play?” asked
Gladys, leaning her cheek against the head which had sunk a little, as
he leaned forward to smooth out the crumpled notes before him.

“Why not? One must amuse one’s self.”

“Not so. Please promise that you will try some safer way? This is
not—honest.” She hesitated over the last word, for his tone had been
short and sharp, but uttered it bravely, and stole an arm about his
neck, mutely asking pardon for the speech which cost her so much.

“What is? Life is all a lottery, and one must keep trying one’s luck
while the wheel goes round; for prizes are few and blanks many, you
know.”

“Ah, do not speak in that reckless way. Forgive me for asking questions;
but you are all I have, and I must take care of you, since no one else
has the right.”

“Or the will. Ask what you please. I will tell you any thing, my visible
conscience;” and Canaris took her in the circle of his arm, subdued by
the courageous tenderness that made her what he called her.

“Is that all yours?” she whispered, pointing a small forefinger rather
sternly at the money before him, and sweetening the question with a
kiss.

“No, it is yours, every penny of it. Put it in the little drawer, and
make merry with it, else I shall be sorry I won it for you.”

“That I cannot do. Please do not ask me. There is always enough in the
little drawer for me, and I like better to use the money you have
earned.”

“Say, rather, the salary which _you_ earn and _I_ spend. It is all
wrong, Gladys; but I cannot help it!” and Canaris pushed away his
winnings, as if he despised them and himself.

“It is my fault that you did this, because I begged you not to let Mr.
Helwyze give me so much. I can take any thing from you, for I love you,
but not from him; so you try to make me think you have enough to gratify
my every wish. Is not that true?”

“Yes: I hate to have you accept any thing from him, and find it harder
to do so myself, than before you came. Yet I cannot help liking play;
for it is an inherited taste, and he knows it.”

“And does not warn you?”

“Not he: I inherit my father’s luck as well as skill, and Helwyze enjoys
hearing of my success in this, as in other things. We used to play
together, till he tired of it. There is nothing equal to it when one is
tormented with _ennui_!”

“Felix, I fear that, though a kind friend, he is not a wise one. Why
does he encourage your vices, and take no interest in strengthening your
virtues? Forgive me, but we all have both, and I want you to be as good
as you are gifted,” she said, with such an earnest, tender face, he
could not feel offended.

“He does not care for that. The contest between the good and evil in me
interests him most, for he knows how to lay his hand on the weak or
wicked spots in a man’s heart; and playing with other people’s passions
is his favorite amusement. Have you not discovered this?”

Canaris spoke gloomily, and Gladys shivered as she held him closer, and
answered in a whisper,—

“Yes, I feel as if under a microscope when with him; yet he is very kind
to me, and very patient with my ignorance. Felix, is he trying to
discover the evil in me, when he gives me strange things to read, and
sits watching me while I do it?”

“_Gott bewahre!_—but of this I am sure, he will find no evil in you, my
white-souled little wife, unless he puts it there. Gladys, refuse to
read what pains and puzzles you. I will not let him vex your peace. Can
he not be content with me, since I am his, body and soul?”

Canaris put her hastily away, to walk the room with a new sense of wrong
hot within him at the thought of the dangers into which he had brought
her against his will. But Gladys, caring only for him, ventured to add,
with her kindling eyes upon his troubled face,—

“I will not let him vex _your_ peace! Refuse to do the things which you
feel are wrong, lest what are only pleasures now may become terrible
temptations by and by. I love and trust you as he never can; I will not
believe your vices stronger than your virtues; and I will defend you, if
he tries to harm the husband God has given me.”

“Bless you for that! it is so long since I have had any one to care for
me, that I forget my duty to you. I am tired of all this froth and
folly; I will stay at home hereafter; that will be safest, if not
happiest.”

He began impetuously, but his voice fell, and was almost inaudible at
the last word, as he turned away to hide the expression of regret which
he could not disguise. But Gladys heard and saw, and the vague fear
which sometimes haunted her stirred again, and took form in the bitter
thought, “Home is not happy: am I the cause?”

She put it from her instantly, as if doubt were dishonor, and spoke out
in the cordial tone which always cheered and soothed him,—

“It shall be both, if I can make it so. Let me try, and perhaps I can do
for you what Mr. Helwyze says I have done for him,—caused him to forget
his troubles, and be glad he is alive.”

Canaris swung round with a peculiar expression on his face.

“He says that, does he? Then he is satisfied with his bargain! I thought
as much, though he never condescended to confess it to me.”

“What bargain, Felix?”

“The pair of us. We were costly, but he got us, as he gets every thing
he sets his heart upon. He was growing tired of me; but when I would
have gone, he kept me, by making it possible for me to win you for
myself—and him. Six months between us have shown you this, I know, and
it is in vain to hide from you how much I long to break away and be free
again—if I ever can.”

He looked ready to break away at once, and Gladys sympathized with him,
seeing now the cause of his unrest.

“I know the feeling, for I too am tired of this life; not because it is
so quiet, but so divided. I want to live for you alone, no matter how
poor and humble my place may be. Now I am so little with you, I
sometimes feel as if I should grow less and less to you, till I am
nothing but a burden and a stumbling-block. Can we not go, and be happy
somewhere else? must we stay here all our lives?” she asked, confessing
the desire which had been strengthening rapidly of late.

“While he lives I must stay, if he wants me. I cannot be ungrateful.
Remember all he has done for me. It will not be long to wait, perhaps.”

Canaris spoke hurriedly, as if regretting his involuntary outburst, and
anxious to atone for it by the submission which always seemed at war
with some stronger, if not nobler, sentiment. Gladys sat silent, lost in
thought; while her husband swept the ill-gotten money into a drawer, and
locked it up, as if relieved to have it out of sight. Soon the cloud
lifted, however; and going to him, as he stood at the window, looking
out with the air of a caged eagle, she said, with her hand upon his
arm,—

“You are right: we _will_ be grateful and patient; but while we wait we
must work, because in that one always finds strength and comfort. What
can we do to earn the wherewithal to found our own little home upon when
this is gone? I have nothing valuable; have you?”

“Nothing but this;” and he touched the bright head beside him, recalling
the moment when she said her hair was all the gold she had.

Gladys remembered it as well, and the promise then made to help him,
both as wife and woman. The time seemed to have come; and, taking
counsel of her own integrity, she had dared to speak in the “sincere
voice that made truth sweeter than falsehood.” Now she tried, in her
simple way, to show how the self-respect he seemed in danger of losing
might be preserved by a task whose purpose would be both salvation and
reward.

“Then let the wit inside this head of mine show you how to turn an
honest penny,” she began, unfolding her plan with an enthusiasm which
redeemed its most prosaic features. “Mr. Helwyze says that even the best
poetry is not profitable, except in fame. That you already have; and
pride and pleasure in the new book is enough, without spoiling it by
being vexed about the money it may bring. But you can use your pen in
other ways, before it is time to write another poem. One of these ways
is the translation of that curious Spanish book you were speaking of the
other day. That will bring something, as it is rare and old; and you,
that have half a dozen languages at your tongue’s end, can easily find
plenty of such work, now that you do not absolutely need it.”

“That sounds a little bitter, Gladys. Don’t let my resentful temper
spoil your sweet one.”

“I am learning fast; among other things, that to him who hath, more
shall be given; so you, being a successful man, may hope for plenty of
help from all _now_, though you were left to starve, when a kind word
would have saved you so much suffering,” Gladys answered, not bitterly,
but with a woman’s pitiful memory of the wrongs done those dearest her.

“God knows it would!” ejaculated Canaris, with unusual fervor.

“Mr. Helwyze remembers that, I think; and this is perhaps the reason why
he is so generous now. Too much so for your good, I fear; and so I
speak, because, young as I am, I cannot help trying to watch over you,
as a wife should.”

“I like it, Gladys. I am old, in many things, for my years, but a boy
still in love, and you must teach me how to be worthy of all you give so
generously and sweetly.”

“Do I give the most?”

“All women do, they say. But go on, and tell the rest of this fine plan
of yours. While I use my polyglot accomplishments, what becomes of you?”
he asked, hastily returning to the safer subject; for the wistful look
in her eyes smote him to the heart.

“I work also. You are still Mr. Helwyze’s _homme d’affaires_, as he
calls you; I am still his reader. But when he does not need me, I shall
take up my old craft again, and embroider, as I used at home. You do not
know how skilful I am with the needle, and never dreamed that the
initials on the handkerchiefs you admired so much were all my work. Oh,
I am a thrifty wife, though such a little one!” and Gladys broke into
her clear child’s laugh, which seemed to cheer them both, as a lark’s
song makes music even in a cloud.

Canaris laughed with her; for these glimpses of practical gifts and
shrewd common sense in Gladys were very like the discovery of a rock
under its veil of moss, or garland of airy columbines.

“But what will _he_ say to all this?” asked the young man, with a
downward gesture of the finger, and in his eye a glimmer of malicious
satisfaction at the thought of having at least one secret in which
Helwyze had no part.

“We need not tell him. It is nothing to him what we do up here. Let him
find out, if he cares to know,” answered Gladys, with a charmingly
mutinous air, as she tripped away to her own little room.

“He _will_ care, and he _will_ find out. He has no right; but that will
not stop him,” returned Canaris, following to lean in the door-way, and
watch her kneeling before a great basket, from which she pulled reels of
gay silk, unfinished bits of work, and fragments of old lace.

“See!” she said, holding up one of the latter, “I can both make and
mend; and one who is clever at this sort of thing can earn a pretty
penny in a quiet way. Through my old employer I can get all the work I
want; so please do not forbid it, Felix: I should be so much happier, if
I might?”

“I will forbid nothing that makes you happy. But Helwyze will be
exceeding wroth when he discovers it, unless the absurdity of beggars
living in a palace strikes him as it does me.”

“I am not afraid!”

“You never saw him in a rage: I have. Quite calm and cool, but rather
awful, as he withers you with a look, or drives you half wild with a
word that stings like a whip, and makes you hate him.”

“Still I would not fear him, unless I _had_ done wrong.”

“He makes you feel so, whether you have or not; and you ask pardon for
doing what you know is right. It is singular, but he certainly does make
black seem white, sometimes,” mused Canaris, knitting his brows with the
old perplexity.

“I am afraid so;” and Gladys folded up a sigh in the parcel of rosy
floss she laid away. Then she chased the frown from her husband’s face
by talking blithely of the home they would yet earn and enjoy together.

Conscious that things were more amiss with him than she suspected,
Canaris was glad to try the new cure, and soon found it so helpful, that
he was anxious to continue it. Very pleasant were the hours they spent
together in their own rooms, when the duties they owed Helwyze were
done; all the pleasanter for them, perhaps, because this domestic league
of theirs shut him out from their real life as inevitably as it drew
them nearer to one another.

The task now in hand was one that Canaris could do easily and well; and
Gladys’s example kept him at it when the charm of novelty was gone.
While he wrote she sat near, so quietly busy, that he often forgot her
presence; but when he looked up, the glance of approval, the encouraging
word, the tender smile, were always ready, and wonderfully inspiring;
for this sweet comrade grew dearer day by day. While he rested she still
worked; and he loved to watch the flowery wonders grow beneath her
needle, swift as skilful. Now a golden wheat-ear, a scarlet poppy, a
blue violet; or the white embroidery, that made his eyes ache with
following the tiny stitches, which seemed to sow seed-pearls along a
hem, weave graceful ciphers, or make lace-work like a cobweb.

Something in it pleased his artistic sense of the beautiful, and soothed
him, as did the conversation that naturally went on between them.
Oftenest he talked, telling her more of his varied life than any other
human being knew; and in these confidences she found the clew to many
things which had pained or puzzled her before; because, spite of her
love, Gladys was clear-sighted, even against her will. Then she would
answer with the story of her monotonous days, her lonely labors, dreams,
and hopes; and they would comfort one another by making pictures of a
future too beautiful ever to be true.

Helwyze was quick to perceive the new change which came over Felix, the
happy peace which had returned to Gladys. He “did care, and he did find
out,” what the young people were about. At first he smiled at the girl’s
delusion in believing that she could fix a nature so mercurial as that
of Canaris, but did not wonder at his yielding, for a time at least, to
such tender persuasion; and, calling them “a pair of innocents,” Helwyze
let them alone, till he discovered that his power was in danger.

Presently, he began to miss the sense of undivided control which was so
agreeable to him. Canaris was as serviceable as ever, but no longer made
him sole confidant, counsellor, and friend. Gladys was scrupulously
faithful still, but her intense interest in his world of books was much
lessened: for she was reading a more engrossing volume than any of
these,—the heart of the man she loved. Something was gone which he had
bargained for, thought he had secured, and now felt wronged at
losing,—an indescribable charm, especially pervading his intercourse
with Gladys; for this friendship, sweet as honey, pure as dew, had just
begun to blossom, when a chilly breath seemed to check its progress,
leaving only cheerful service, not the spontaneous devotion which had
been so much to him.

He said nothing; but for all his imperturbability, it annoyed him, as
the gnat annoyed the lion; and, though scarcely acknowledged even to
himself, it lurked under various moods and motives, impelling him to
words and acts which produced dangerous consequences.

“Pray forgive us, we are very late.”

“Time goes so fast, we quite forgot!” exclaimed Felix and Gladys both
together, as they hurried into the library, one bright March morning,
looking so blithe and young, that Helwyze suddenly felt old and sad and
bitter-hearted, as if they had stolen something from him.

“I have learned to wait,” he said, with the cold brevity which was the
only sign of displeasure Gladys ever saw in him.

In remorseful silence she hastened to find her place in the book they
were reading; but Canaris, who seemed bubbling over with good spirits,
took no notice of the chill, and asked, with unabated cheerfulness,—

“Any commissions, sir, beside these letters? I feel as if I ‘could put a
girdle round the earth in forty minutes,’ it is such a glorious,
spring-like day.”

“Nothing but the letters. Stay a moment, while I add another;” and,
taking up the pen he had laid by, Helwyze wrote hastily,—

    “TO OLIVIA AT THE SOUTH:—

    “The swallows will be returning soon; return with them, if you
    can. I am deadly dull: come and make a little mischief to amuse
    me. I miss you.

                                                            JASPER.”

Sealing and directing this, he handed it to Canaris, who had been
whispering to Gladys more like a lover than a husband of half a year’s
standing. Something in the elder man’s face made the younger glance
involuntarily at the letter as he took it.

“Olivia? I promised to write her, but I”—

“Dared not?”

“No: I forgot it;” and Canaris went off, laughing at the _grande
passion_, which now seemed very foolish and far away.

“This time, I think, you _will_ remember, for I mean to fight fire with
fire,” thought Helwyze, with a grim smile, such as Louis XI. might have
worn when sending some gallant young knight to carry his own
death-warrant.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XII.


Olivia came before the swallows; for the three words, “I miss you,”
would have brought her from the ends of the earth, had she exiled
herself so far. She had waited for him to want and call her, as he often
did when others wearied or failed him. Seldom had so long a time passed
without some word from him; and endless doubts, fears, conjectures, had
harassed her, as month after month went by, and no summons came. Now she
hastened, ready for any thing he might ask of her, since her reward
would be a glimpse of the only heaven she knew.

“Amuse Felix: he is falling in love with his wife, and it spoils both of
them for my use. He says he has forgotten you. Come often, and teach him
to remember, as penalty for his bad taste and manners,” was the single
order Helwyze gave; but Olivia needed no other; and, for the sake of
coming often, would have smiled upon a far less agreeable man than
Canaris.

Gladys tried to welcome the new guest cordially, as an unsuspicious dove
might have welcomed a falcon to its peaceful cote; but her heart sunk
when she found her happy quiet sorely disturbed, her husband’s place
deserted, and the old glamour slowly returning to separate them, in
spite of all her gentle arts. For Canaris, feeling quite safe in the
sincere affection which now bound him to his wife, was foolhardy in his
desire to show Olivia how heart-whole he had become. This piqued her
irresistibly, because Helwyze was looking on, and she would win _his_
approval at any cost. So these three, from divers motives, joined
together to teach poor Gladys how much a woman can suffer with silent
fortitude and make no sign.

The weeks that followed seemed unusually gay and sunny ones; for April
came in blandly, and Olivia made a pleasant stir throughout the house by
her frequent visits, and the various excursions she proposed. Many of
these Gladys escaped; for her pain was not the jealousy that would drive
her to out-rival her rival, but the sorrowful shame and pity which made
her long to hide herself, till Felix should come back and be forgiven.
Helwyze naturally declined the long drives, the exhilarating rides in
the bright spring weather, which were so attractive to the younger man,
and sat at home watching Gladys, now more absorbingly interesting than
ever. He could not but admire the patience, strength, and dignity of the
creature; for she made no complaint, showed no suspicion, asked no
advice, but went straight on, like one who followed with faltering feet,
but unwavering eye, the single star in all the sky that would lead her
right. A craving curiosity to know what she felt and thought possessed
him, and he invited confidence by unwonted kindliness, as well as the
unfailing courtesy he showed her.

But Gladys would not speak either to him or to her husband, who seemed
wilfully blind to the slowly changing face, all the sadder for the smile
it always wore when his eyes were on it. At first, Helwyze tried his
gentlest arts; but, finding her as true as brave, was driven, by the
morbid curiosity which he had indulged till it became a mania, to use
means as subtle as sinful,—like a burglar, who, failing to pick a lock,
grows desperate and breaks it, careless of consequences.

Taking his daily walk through the house, he once came upon Gladys
watering the _jardinière_, which was her especial care, and always kept
full of her favorite plants. She was not singing as she worked, but
seriously busy as a child, holding in both hands her little watering-pot
to shower the thirsty ferns and flowers, who turned up their faces to be
washed with the silent delight which was their thanks.

“See how the dear things enjoy it! I feel as if they knew and watched
for me, and I never like to disappoint them of their bath,” she said,
looking over her shoulder, as he paused beside her. She was used to this
now, and was never surprised or startled when below stairs by his
noiseless approach.

“They are doing finely. Did Moss bring in some cyclamens? They are in
full bloom now, and you are fond of them, I think?”

“Yes, here they are: both purple and white, so sweet and lovely! See how
many buds this one has. I shall enjoy seeing them come out, they unfurl
so prettily;” and, full of interest, Gladys parted the leaves to show
several baby buds, whose rosy faces were just peeping from their green
hoods.

Helwyze liked to see her among the flowers; for there was something
peculiarly innocent and fresh about her then, as if the woman forgot her
griefs, and was a girl again. It struck him anew, as she stood there in
the sunshine, leaning down to tend the soft leaves and cherish the
delicate buds with a caressing hand.

“Like seeks like: you are a sort of cyclamen yourself. I never observed
it before, but the likeness is quite striking,” he said, with the slow
smile which usually prefaced some speech which bore a double meaning.

“Am I?” and Gladys eyed the flowers, pleased, yet a little shy, of
compliment from him.

“This is especially like you,” continued Helwyze, touching one of the
freshest. “Out of these strong sombre leaves rises a wraith-like
blossom, with white, softly folded petals, a rosy color on its modest
face, and a most sweet perfume for those whose sense is fine enough to
perceive it. Most of all, perhaps, it resembles you in this,—it hides
its heart, and, if one tries to look too closely, there is danger of
snapping the slender stem.”

“That is its nature, and it cannot help being shy. I kneel down and look
up without touching it; then one sees that it has nothing to hide,”
protested Gladys, following out the flower fancy, half in earnest, half
in jest, for she felt there was a question and a reproach in his words.

“Perhaps not; let us see, in my way.” With a light touch Helwyze turned
the reluctant cyclamen upward, and in its purple cup there clung a newly
fallen drop, like a secret tear.

Mute and stricken, Gladys looked at the little symbol of herself,
owning, with a throb of pain, that if in nothing else, they _were_ alike
in that.

Helwyze stood silent likewise, inhaling the faint fragrance while he
softly ruffled the curled petals as if searching for another tear.
Suddenly Gladys spoke out with the directness which always gave him a
keen pleasure, asking, as she stretched her hand involuntarily to shield
the more helpless flower,—

“Sir, why do you wish to read my heart?”

“To comfort it.”

“Do I need comfort, then?”

“Do you not?”

“If I have a sorrow, God only can console me, and He only need know it.
To you it should be sacred. Forgive me if I seem ungrateful; but you
cannot help me, if you would.”

“Do you doubt my will?”

“I try to doubt no one; but I fear—I fear many things;” and, as if
afraid of saying too much, Gladys broke off, to hurry away, wearing so
strange a look that Helwyze was consumed with a desire to know its
meaning.

He saw no more of her till twilight, for Canaris took her place just
then, reading a foreign book, which she could not manage; but, when
Felix went out, he sought one of his solitary haunts, hoping she would
appear.

She did; for the day closed early with a gusty rain, and the sunset hour
was gray and cold, leaving no after-glow to tint the western sky and
bathe the great room in ruddy light. Pale and noiseless as a spirit,
Gladys went to and fro, trying to quiet the unrest that made her nights
sleepless, her days one long struggle to be patient, just, and kind. She
tried to sing, but the song died in her throat; she tried to sew, but
her eyes were dim, and the flower under her needle only reminded her
that “pansies were for thoughts,” and hers, alas! were too sad for
thinking; she took up a book, but laid it down again, since Felix was
not there to finish it with her. Her own rooms seemed so empty, she
could not return thither when she had looked for him in vain; and,
longing for some human voice to speak to her, it was a relief to come
upon Helwyze sitting in his lonely corner,—for she never now went to the
library, unless duty called her.

“A dull evening, and dull company,” he said, as she paused beside him,
glad to have found something to take her out of herself, for a time at
least.

“Such a long day! and such a dreary night as it will be!” she answered,
leaning her forehead against the window-pane, to watch the drops fall,
and listen to the melancholy wind.

“Shorten the one and cheer the other, as I do: sleep, dream, and
forget.”

“I cannot!” and there was a world of suffering in the words that broke
from her against her will.

“Try my sleep-compeller as freely as I tried yours. See, these will give
you one, if not all the three desired blessings,—quiet slumber,
delicious dreams, or utter oblivion for a time.”

As he spoke, Helwyze had drawn out a little _bonbonnière_ of
tortoise-shell and silver, which he always carried, and shaken into his
palm half a dozen white comfits, which he offered to Gladys, with a
benign expression born of real sympathy and compassion. She hesitated;
and he added, in a tone of mild reproach, which smote her generous heart
with compunction,—

“Since I may not even try to minister to your troubled mind, let me, at
least, give a little rest to your weary body. Trust me, child, these
cannot hurt you; and, strong as you are, you will break down if you do
not sleep.”

Without a word, she took them; and, as they melted on her tongue, first
sweet, then bitter, she stood leaning against the rainy window-pane,
listening to Helwyze, who began to talk as if he too had tasted the
Indian drug, which “made the face of Coleridge shine, as he conversed
like one inspired.”

It seemed a very simple, friendly act; but this man had learned to know
how subtly the mind works; to see how often an apparently impulsive
action is born of an almost unconscious thought, an unacknowledged
purpose, a deeply hidden motive, which to many seem rather the child
than the father of the deed. Helwyze did not deceive himself, and owned
that baffled desire prompted that unpremeditated offer, and was ready to
avail itself of any self-betrayal which might follow its acceptance, for
he had given Gladys hasheesh.

It could not harm; it might soothe and comfort her unrest. It surely
would make her forget for a while, and in that temporary oblivion
perhaps he might discover what he burned to know. The very uncertainty
of its effect added to the daring of the deed; and, while he talked, he
waited to see how it would affect her, well knowing that in such a
temperament as hers all processes are rapid. For an hour he conversed so
delightfully of Rome and its wonders, that Gladys was amazed to find
Felix had come in, unheard for once.

All through dinner she brightened steadily, thinking the happy mood was
brought by her prodigal’s return, quite forgetting Helwyze and his
bitter-sweet bonbons.

“I shall stay at home, and enjoy the society of my pretty wife. What
have you done to make yourself so beautiful to-night? Is it the new
gown?” asked Canaris, surveying her with laughing but most genuine
surprise and satisfaction as they returned to the drawing-room again.

“It is not new: I made it long ago, to please you, but you never noticed
it before,” answered Gladys, glancing at the pale-hued dress, all broad,
soft folds from waist to ankle, with its winter trimming of swan’s down
at the neck and wrists; simple, but most becoming to her flower-like
face and girlish figure.

“What cruel blindness! But I see and admire it now, and honestly declare
that not Olivia in all her splendor is arrayed so much to my taste as
you, my Sancta Simplicitas.”

“It is pleasant to hear you say so; but that alone does not make me
happy: it must be having you at home all to myself again,” she
whispered, with shining eyes, cheeks that glowed with a deeper rose each
hour, and an indescribably blest expression in a face which now was both
brilliant and dreamy.

Helwyze heard what she said, and, fearing to lose sight of her, promptly
challenged Canaris to chess, a favorite pastime with them both. For an
hour they played, well matched and keenly interested, while Gladys sat
by, already tasting the restful peace, the delicious dreams, promised
her.

The clock was on the stroke of eight, the game was nearly over, when a
quick ring arrested Helwyze in the act of making the final move. There
was a stir in the hall, then, bringing with her a waft of fresh, damp
air, Olivia appeared, brave in purple silk and Roman gold.

“I thought you were all asleep or dead; but now I see the cause of this
awful silence,” she cried. “Don’t speak, don’t stir; let me enjoy the
fine tableau you make. Retsch’s ‘Game of Life,’ quite perfect, and most
effective.”

It certainly was to an observer; for Canaris, flushed and eager, looked
the young man to the life; Helwyze, calm but intent, with his finger on
his lip, pondering that last fateful move, was an excellent Satan; and
behind them stood Gladys, wonderfully resembling the wistful angel, with
that new brightness on her face.

“Which wins?” asked Olivia, rustling toward them, conscious of having
made an impressive entrance; for both men looked up to welcome her,
though Gladys never lifted her eyes from the mimic battle Felix seemed
about to lose.

“I do, as usual,” answered Helwyze, turning to finish the game with the
careless ease of a victor.

“Not this time;” and Gladys touched a piece which Canaris in the hurry
of the moment was about to overlook. He saw its value at a glance, made
the one move that could save him, and in an instant cried “Checkmate,”
with a laugh of triumph.

“Not fair, the angel interfered,” said Olivia, shaking a warning finger
at Gladys, who echoed her husband’s laugh with one still more exultant,
as she put her hand upon his shoulder, saying, in a low, intense voice
never heard from her lips before,—

“I have won him; he is mine, and cannot be taken from me any more.”

“Dearest child, no one wants him, except to play with and admire,” began
Olivia, rather startled by the look and manner of the lately meek, mute
Gladys.

Here Helwyze struck in, anxious to avert Olivia’s attention; for her
undesirable presence disconcerted him, since her woman’s wit might
discover what it was easy to conceal from Canaris.

“You have come to entertain us, like the amiable enchantress that you
are?” he asked, suggestively; for nothing charmed Olivia more than
permission to amuse him, when others failed.

“I have a thought,—a happy thought,—if Gladys will help me. You have
given me one living picture: I will give you others, and she shall sing
the scenes we illustrate.”

“Take Felix, and give us ‘The God and the Bayadere,’” said Helwyze,
glancing at the young pair behind them, he intent upon their
conversation, she upon him. “No, I will have only Gladys. You will act
and sing for us, I know?” and Olivia turned to her with a most engaging
smile.

“I never acted in my life, but I will try. I think I should like it for
I feel as if I could do any thing to-night;” and she came to them with a
swift step, an eager air, as if longing to find some outlet for the
strange energy which seemed to thrill every nerve and set her heart to
beating audibly.

“You look so. Do you know all these songs?” asked Olivia, taking up the
book which had suggested her happy thought.

“There are but four: I know them all. I will gladly sing them; for I set
them to music, if they had none of their own already. I often do that to
those Felix writes me.”

“Come, then. I want the key of the great press, where you keep your
spoils, Jasper.”

“Mrs. Bland will give it you. Order what you will, if you are going to
treat us to an Arabian Night’s entertainment.”

“Better than that. We are going to teach a small poet, by illustrating
the work of a great one;” and, with a mischievous laugh, Olivia
vanished, beckoning Gladys to follow.

The two men beguiled the time as best they might: Canaris playing softly
to himself in the music-room; Helwyze listening intently to the sounds
that came from behind the curtains, now dropped over a double door-way
leading to the lower end of the hall. Olivia’s imperious voice was
heard, directing men and maids. More than once an excited laugh from
Gladys jarred upon his ear; and, as minute after minute passed, his
impatience to see her again increased.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 XIII.


After what would have seemed a wonderfully short time to a more careless
waiter, three blows were struck, in the French fashion, and Canaris had
barely time to reach his place, when the deep blue curtains slid
noiselessly apart, showing the visible portion of the hall, arranged to
suggest a mediæval room. An easy task, when a suit of rusty armor
already stood there; and Helwyze had brought spoils from all quarters of
the globe, in the shape of old furniture, tapestry, weapons, and
trophies of many a wild hunt.

“What is it?” whispered Canaris eagerly.

“An Idyl of the King.”

“I see: the first. How well they look it!”

They did; Olivia, as

                           “An ancient dame in dim brocade;
             And near her, like a blossom, vermeil-white,
             That lightly breaks a faded flower-sheath,
             Stood the fair Enid, all in faded silk.”

Gladys, clad in a quaint costume of tarnished gray and silver damask,
singing, in “the sweet voice of a bird,”—

        “Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel, and lower the proud;
        Turn thy wild wheel through sunshine, storm, and cloud;
        Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.

        “Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel with smile and frown;
        With that wild wheel we go not up nor down;
        Our hoard is little, but our hearts are great.

        “Smile and we smile, the lords of many lands;
        Frown and we smile, the lords of our own hands;
        For man is man and master of his fate.

        “Turn, turn thy wheel above the staring crowd;
        Thy wheel and thou art shadows in the cloud;
        Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate.”

There was something inexpressibly touching in the way Gladys gave the
words, which had such significance addressed to those who listened so
intently, that they nearly forgot to pay the tribute which all actors,
the greatest as the least, desire, when the curtain dropped, and the
song was done.

“A capital idea of Olivia’s, and beautifully carried out. This promises
to be pleasant;” and Helwyze sat erect upon the divan, where Canaris
came to lounge beside him.

“Which comes next? I don’t remember. If it is Vivien, they will have to
skip it, unless they call you in for Merlin,” he said, talking gayly,
because a little conscience-stricken by the look Gladys wore, as she
sung, with her eyes upon him,—

            “Our hoard is little, but our hearts are great.”

“They will not want a Merlin; for Gladys could not act Vivien, if she
would,” answered Helwyze, tapping restlessly as he waited.

“She said she could do ‘_any thing_’ to-night; and, upon my life, she
looked as if she might even beguile you ‘mighty master,’ of your
strongest spell.”

“She will never try.”

But both were mistaken; for, when they looked again, the dim light
showed a dark and hooded shape, with glittering eyes and the semblance
of a flowing, hoary beard, leaning half-hidden in a bower of tall shrubs
from the conservatory. It was Olivia, as Merlin; and, being of noble
proportions, she looked the part excellently. Upon the wizard’s knee sat
Vivien,—

           “A twist of gold was round her hair;
           A robe of samite without price, that more exprest
           Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,
           In color like the satin-shining palm
           On sallows in the windy gleams of March.”

In any other mood, Gladys would never have consented to be loosely clad
in a great mantle of some Indian fabric, which shimmered like woven
light, with its alternate stripes of gold-covered silk and softest wool.
Shoulders and arms showed rosy white under the veil of hair which swept
to her knee, as she clung there, singing sweet and low, with eyes on
Merlin’s face, lips near his own, and head upon his breast:—

              “In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
              Faith and unfaith can ne’er be equal powers;
              Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.

              “It is the little rift within the lute
              That by and by will make the music mute,
              And ever widening, slowly silence all.

              “The little rift within the lover’s lute,
              Or little pitted speck in garner’d fruit,
              That, rotting inward, slowly moulders all.

              “It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
              But shall it? Answer, darling, answer ‘No;’
              And trust me not at all or all in all.”

There Gladys seemed to forget her part, and, turning, stretched her arms
towards her husband, as if in music she had found a tongue to plead her
cause. The involuntary gesture recalled to her that other verse which
Vivien added to her song; and something impelled her to sing it,
standing erect, with face, figure, voice all trembling with the strong
emotion that suddenly controlled her:—

         “My name, once mine, now thine, is closelier mine,
         For fame, could fame be mine, that fame were thine;
         And shame, could shame be thine, that shame were mine;
         So trust me not at all or all in all.”

Down fell the curtain there, and the two men looked at one another in
silence for an instant, dazzled, troubled, and surprised; for in this
brilliant, impassioned creature they did not recognize the Gladys they
believed they knew so well.

“What possessed her to sing that? She is so unlike herself, I do not
know her,” said Canaris, excited by the discoveries he was making.

“She is inspired to-night; so be prepared for any thing. These women
will work wonders, they are acting to the men they love,” answered
Helwyze, warily, yet excited also; because, for him, a double drama was
passing on that little stage, and he found it marvellously fascinating.

“I never knew how beautiful she was!” mused Canaris, half aloud, his
eyes upon the blue draperies which hid her from his sight.

“You never saw her in such gear before. Splendor suits her present mood,
as well as simplicity becomes her usual self-restraint. You have made
her jealous, and your angel will prove herself a woman, after all.”

“Is that the cause of this sudden change in her? Then I don’t regret
playing truant, for the woman suits me better than the angel,” cried
Canaris, conscious that the pale affection he had borne his wife so long
was already glowing with new warmth and color, in spite of his seeming
neglect.

“Wait till you see Olivia as Guinevere. I know she cannot resist that
part, and I suspect she is willing to efface herself so far that she may
take us by storm by and by.”

Helwyze prophesied truly; and, when next the curtains parted, the
stately Queen sat in the nunnery of Almesbury, with the little novice at
her feet. Olivia _was_ right splendid now, for her sumptuous beauty well
became the costly stuffs in which she had draped herself with the
graceful art of a woman whose physical loveliness was her best
possession. A trifle _too_ gorgeous, perhaps, for the repentant
Guinevere; but a most grand and gracious spectacle, nevertheless, as she
leaned in the tall carved chair, with jewelled arms lying languidly
across her lap, and absent eyes still full of love and longing for lost
Launcelot.

Gladys, in white wimple and close-folded gown of gray, sat on a stool
beside the “one low light,” humming softly, her rosary fallen at her
feet,—

                “the Queen looked up, and said,
            ‘O maiden, if indeed you list to sing
          Sing, and unbind my heart, that I may weep.’
          Whereat full willingly sang the little maid,

            Late, late, so late! and dark the night and chill!
          Late, late, so late! but we can enter still.
          Too late! too late! ye cannot enter now.

          No light had we: for that we do repent,
          And, learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
          Too late! too late! ye cannot enter now.

          No light, so late! and dark and chill the night!
          O let us in, that we may find the light!
          Too late! too late! ye cannot enter now.

          Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
          O let us in, tho’ late, to kiss his feet!
          No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.”

Slowly the proud head had drooped, the stately figure sunk, till, as the
last lament died away, nothing remained of splendid Guinevere but a
hidden face, a cloud of black hair from which the crown had fallen, a
heap of rich robes quivering with the stormy sobs of a guilty woman’s
smitten heart. The curtains closed on this tableau, which was made the
more effective by the strong contrast between the despairing Queen and
the little novice telling her beads in meek dismay.

“Good heavens, that sounded like the wail of a lost soul! My blood runs
cold, and I feel as if I ought to say my prayers,” muttered Canaris,
with a shiver; for, with his susceptible temperament, music always
exerted over him an almost painful power.

“If you knew any,” sneered Helwyze, whose eyes now glittered with
something stronger than excitement.

“I do: Gladys taught me, and I am not ashamed to own it.”

“Much good may it do you.” Then, in a quieter tone, he asked, “Is there
any song in ‘Elaine’? I forget; and that is the only one we have not
had.”

“There is ‘The Song of Love and Death.’ Gladys was learning it lately;
and, if I remember rightly, it was heart-rending. I hope she will not
sing it, for this sort of thing is rather too much for me;” and Canaris
got up to wander aimlessly about, humming the gayest airs he knew, as if
to drown the sorrowful “Too late! too late!” still wailing in his ear.

By this time Gladys was no longer quite herself: an inward excitement
possessed her, a wild desire to sing her very heart out came over her,
and a strange chill, which she thought a vague presentiment of coming
ill, crept through her blood. Every thing seemed vast and awful; every
sense grew painfully acute; and she walked as in a dream, so vivid, yet
so mysterious, that she did not try to explain it even to herself. Her
identity was doubled: one Gladys moved and spoke as she was told,—a
pale, dim figure, of no interest to any one; the other was alive in
every fibre, thrilled with intense desire for something, and bent on
finding it, though deserts, oceans, and boundless realms of air were
passed to gain it.

Olivia wondered at her unsuspected power, and felt a little envious of
her enchanting gift. But she was too absorbed in “setting the stage,”
dressing her prima donna, and planning how to end the spectacle with her
favorite character of Cleopatra, to do more than observe that Gladys’s
eyes were luminous and large, her face growing more and more colorless,
her manner less and less excited, yet unnaturally calm.

“This is the last, and you have the stage alone. Do your best for Felix;
then you shall rest and be thanked,” she whispered, somewhat anxiously,
as she placed Elaine in her tower, leaning against the dark screen,
which was unfolded, to suggest the casement she flung back when
Launcelot passed below,—

                  “And glanced not up, nor waved his hand,
              Nor bade farewell, but sadly rode away.”

The “lily maid of Astolat” could not have looked more wan and weird than
Gladys, as she stood in her trailing robes of dead white, with loosely
gathered locks, hands clasped over the gay bit of tapestry which
simulated the cover of the shield, eyes that seemed to see something
invisible to those about her, and began her song, in a veiled voice, at
once so sad and solemn, that Helwyze held his breath, and Canaris felt
as if she called him from beyond the grave:—

           “Sweet is true love, tho’ given in vain, in vain;
           And sweet is death, who puts an end to pain;
           I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.

           Love, art thou sweet? then bitter death must be;
           Love, thou art bitter; sweet is death to me.
           O Love, if death be sweeter, let me die.

           Sweet love, that seems not made to fade away,
           Sweet death, that seems to make us loveless clay,
           I know not which is sweeter, no, not I.

           I fain would follow love, if that could be;
           I needs must follow death, who calls for me:
           Call and I follow, I follow! let me die!”

Carried beyond self-control by the unsuspected presence of the drug,
which was doing its work with perilous rapidity, Gladys, remembering
only that the last line should be sung with force, and that she sung for
Felix, obeyed the wild impulse to let her voice rise and ring out with a
shrill, despairing power and passion, which startled every listener, and
echoed through the room, like Elaine’s unearthly cry of hapless love and
death.

Olivia dropped her asp, terrified; the maids stared, uncertain whether
it was acting or insanity; and Helwyze sprung up aghast, fearing that he
had dared too much. But Canaris, seeing only the wild, woful eyes fixed
on his, the hands wrung as if in pain, forgot every thing but Gladys,
and rushed between the curtains, exclaiming in real terror,—

“Don’t look so! don’t sing so! my God, she is dying!”

Not dying, only slipping fast into the unconscious stage of the hasheesh
dream, whose coming none can foretell but those accustomed to its use.
Pale and quiet she lay in her husband’s arms, with half-open eyes and
fluttering breath, smiling up at him so strangely that he was bewildered
as well as panic-stricken. Olivia forgot her Cleopatra to order air and
water; the maids flew for salts and wine; Helwyze with difficulty hid
his momentary dismay; while Canaris, almost beside himself, could only
hang over the couch where lay “the lily-maid,” looking as if already
dead, and drifting down to Camelot.

“Gladys, do you know me?” he cried, as a little color came to her lips
after the fiery draught Olivia energetically administered.

The eyes opened wider, the smile grew brighter, and she lifted her hand
to bring him nearer, for he seemed immeasurably distant.

“Felix! Let me be still, quite still; I want to sleep. Good-night,
good-night.”

She thought she kissed him; then his face receded, vanished, and, as she
floated buoyantly away upon the first of the many oceans to be crossed
in her mysterious quest, a far-off voice seemed to say, solemnly, as if
in a last farewell,—

“Hush! let her sleep in peace.”

It was Helwyze; and, having felt her pulse, he assured them all that she
was only over-excited, must rest an hour or two, and would soon be quite
herself again. So the brief panic ended quietly; and, having lowered the
lights, spread Guinevere’s velvet mantle over her, and re-assured
themselves that she was sleeping calmly, the women went to restore order
to ante-room and hall, Canaris sat down to watch beside Gladys, and
Helwyze betook himself to the library.

“Is she still sleeping?” he asked, with unconcealable anxiety, when
Olivia joined him there.

“Like a baby. What a high-strung little thing it is. If she had strength
to bear the training, she would make a cantatrice to be proud of,
Jasper.”

“Ah, but she never would! Fancy that modest creature on a stage for all
the world to gape at. She was happiest in the nun’s gown to-night,
though simply ravishing as Vivien. The pretty, bare feet were most
effective; but how did you persuade her to it?”

“I had no sandals as a compromise: I therefore insisted that the part
_must_ be so dressed or undressed, and she submitted. People usually do,
when I command.”

“She was on her mettle: I could see that; and well she might be, with
you for a rival. I give you my word, Olivia, if I did not know you were
nearly forty, I should swear it was a lie; for ‘age cannot wither nor
custom stale’ my handsome Cleopatra. We ought to have had that, by the
by: it used to be your best bit. I could not be your Antony, but Felix
might: he adores costuming, and would do it capitally.”

“Not old enough. Ah! what happy times those were;” and Olivia sighed
sincerely, yet dramatically, for she knew she was looking wonderfully
well, thrown down upon a couch, with her purple skirts sweeping about
her, and two fine arms banded with gold clasped over her dark head.

Helwyze had flattered with a purpose. Canaris was in the way, Gladys
might betray herself, and all was not safe yet; though in one respect
the experiment had succeeded admirably, for he still tingled with the
excitement of the evening. Now he wanted help, not sentiment, and,
ignoring the sigh, said, carelessly,—

“If all obey when you insist, just make Felix go home with you. The
drive will do him good, for he is as nervous as a woman, and I shall
have him fidgeting about all night, unless he forgets his fright.”

“But Gladys?”

“She will be the better for a quiet nap, and ready, by the time he
returns, to laugh at her heroics. He will only disturb her if he sits
there, like a mourner at a death-bed.”

“That sounds sensible and friendly, and you do it very well, Jasper; but
I am impressed that something is amiss. What is it? Better tell me; I
shall surely find it out, and will not work in the dark. I see mischief
in your eyes, and you cannot deceive me.”

Olivia spoke half in jest; but she had so often seen his face without a
mask, that it was difficult to wear one in her presence. He frowned,
hesitated, then fearing she would refuse the favor if he withheld the
secret, he leaned towards her and answered in a whisper,—

“I gave Gladys hasheesh, and do not care to have Felix know it.”

“Jasper, how dared you?”

“She was restless, suffering for sleep. I know what that is, and out of
pity gave her the merest taste. Upon my honor, no more than a child
might safely take. She did not know what it was, and I thought she would
only feel its soothing charm. She would, if it had not been for this
masquerading. I did not count on that, and it was too much for her.”

“Will she not suffer from the after-effects?”

“Not a whit, if she is let alone. An hour hence she will be deliciously
drowsy, and to-morrow none the worse. I had no idea it would affect her
so powerfully; but I do not regret it, for it showed what the woman is
capable of.”

“At your old tricks. You will never learn to let your fellow-creatures
alone, till something terrible stops you. You were always prying into
things, even as a boy, when I caught butterflies for you to look at.”

“I never killed them: only brushed off a trifle of the gloss by my
touch, and let them go again, none the worse, except for the loss of a
few invisible feathers.”

“Ah! but that delicate plumage is the glory of the insect; robbed of
that, its beauty is marred. No one but their Maker can search hearts
without harming them. I wonder how it will fare with yours when He looks
for its perfection?”

Olivia spoke with a sudden seriousness, a yearning look, which jarred on
nerves already somewhat unstrung, and Helwyze answered, in a mocking
tone that silenced her effectually,—

“I am desperately curious to know. If I can come and tell you, I will:
such pious interest deserves that attention.”

“Heaven forbid!” ejaculated Olivia, with a shiver.

“Then I will _not_. I have been such a poor ghost here, I suspect I
shall be glad to rest eternally when I once fall asleep, if I can.”

Weary was his voice, weary his attitude, as, leaning an elbow on either
knee, he propped his chin upon his hands, and sat brooding for a moment
with his eyes upon the ground, asking himself for the thousandth time
the great question which only hope and faith can answer truly.

Olivia rose. “You are tired; so am I. Good-night, Jasper, and pleasant
dreams. But remember, no more tampering with Gladys, or I must tell her
husband.”

“I have had my lesson. Take Felix with you, and I will send Mrs. Bland
to sit with her till he comes back. Good-night, my cousin; thanks for a
glimpse of the old times.” Such words, uttered with a pressure of the
hand, conquered Olivia’s last scruple, and she went away to prefer her
request in a form which made it impossible for Canaris to refuse. Gladys
still slept quietly. The distance was not long, the fresh air grateful,
Olivia her kindest self, and he obeyed, believing that the motherly old
woman would take his place as soon as certain housewifely duties
permitted.

Then Helwyze did an evil thing,—a thing few men could or would have
done. He deliberately violated the sanctity of a human soul, robbing it
alike of its most secret and most precious thoughts. Hasheesh had lulled
the senses which guarded the treasure; now the magnetism of a potent
will forced the reluctant lips to give up the key.

Like a thief he stole to Gladys’ side, took in his the dimpled hands
whose very childishness should have pleaded for her, and fixed his eyes
upon the face before him, untouched by its helpless innocence, its
unnatural expression. The half-open eyes were heavy as dew-drunken
violets, the sweet red mouth was set, the agitated bosom still rose and
fell, like a troubled sea subsiding after storm.

So sitting, stern and silent as the fate he believed in, Helwyze
concentrated every power upon the accomplishment of the purpose to which
he bent his will. He called it psychological curiosity; for not even to
himself did he dare confess the true meaning of the impulse which drove
him to this act, and dearly did he pay for it.

Soon the passive palms thrilled in his own, the breath came faint and
slow, color died, and life seemed to recede from the countenance,
leaving a pale effigy of the woman; lately so full of vitality. “It
works! it works!” muttered Helwyze, lifting his head at length to wipe
the dampness from his brow, and send a piercing glance about the shadowy
room. Then, kneeling down beside the couch, he put his lips to her ear,
whispering in a tone of still command,—

“Gladys, do you hear me?”

Like the echo of a voice, so low, expressionless, and distant was it,
the answer came,—

“I hear.”

“Will you answer me?”

“I must.”

“You have a sorrow,—tell it.”

“All is so false. I am unhappy without confidence,” sighed the voice.

“Can you trust no one?”

“No one here, but Felix.”

“Yet he deceives, he does not love you.”

“He will.”

“Is this the hope which sustains you?”

“Yes.”

“And you forgive, you love him still?”

“Always.”

“If the hope fails?”

“It will not: I shall have help.”

“What help?”

No answer now, but the shadow of a smile seemed to float across the
silent lips as if reflected from a joy too deep and tender for speech to
tell.

“Speak! what is this happiness? The hope of freedom?”

“It will come.”

“How?”

“When you die.”

He caught his breath, and for an instant seemed daunted by the truth he
had evoked; for it was terrible, so told, so heard.

“You hate me, then?” he whispered, almost fiercely, in the ear that
never shrank from his hot lips.

“I doubt and dread you.”

“Why, Gladys, why? To you I am not cruel.”

“Too kind, alas, too kind!”

“And yet you fear me?”

“God help us. Yes.”

“What is your fear?”

“No, no, I will _not_ tell it!”

Some inward throe of shame or anguish turned the pale face paler,
knotted the brow, and locked the lips, as if both soul and body revolted
from the thought thus ruthlessly dragged to light. Instinct, the first,
last, strongest impulse of human nature, struggled blindly to save the
woman from betraying the dread which haunted her heart like a spectre,
and burned her lips in the utterance of its name. But Helwyze was
pitiless, his will indomitable; his eye held, his hand controlled, his
voice commanded; and the answer came, so reluctantly, so inaudibly, that
he seemed to divine, not hear it.

“What fear?”

“Your love.”

“You see, you know it, then?”

“I do not see, I vaguely feel; I pray God I may never know.”

With the involuntary recoil of a guilty joy, a shame as great, Helwyze
dropped the nerveless hands, turned from the mutely accusing face, let
the troubled spirit rest, and asked no more. But his punishment began as
he stood there, finding the stolen truth a heavier burden than baffled
doubt or desire had been; since forbidden knowledge was bitter to the
taste, forbidden love possessed no sweetness, and the hidden hope,
putting off its well-worn disguise, confronted him in all its ugliness.

An awesome silence filled the room, until he lifted up his eyes, and
looked at Gladys with a look which would have wrung her heart could she
have seen it. She did not see; for she lay there so still, so white, so
dead, he seemed to have scared away the soul he had vexed with his
impious questioning.

In remorseful haste, Helwyze busied himself about her, till she woke
from that sleep within a sleep, moaned wearily, closed the unseeing
eyes, and drifted away into more natural slumber, dream-haunted, but
deep and quiet.

Then he stole away as he had come, and, sending the old woman to watch
Gladys, shut himself into his own room, to keep a vigil which lasted
until dawn; for all the poppies of the East could not have brought
oblivion that night.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XIV.


It seemed as if some angel had Gladys in especial charge, bringing light
out of darkness, joy out of sorrow, good out of evil; for no harm came
to her,—only a great peace, which transfigured her face till it was as
spiritually beautiful, as that of some young Madonna.

Waking late the next day she remembered little of the past night’s
events, and cared to remember little, having clearer and calmer thoughts
to dwell upon, happier dreams to enjoy.

She suspected Helwyze of imprudent kindness, but uttered no reproach,
quite unconscious of how much she had to forgive; thereby innocently
adding to both the relief and the remorse he felt. The doubt and dread
which had risen to the surface at his command, seemed to sink again into
the depths; and hope and love, to still the troubled waters where her
life-boat rode at anchor for a time.

Canaris, as if tired of playing truant, was ready now to be forgiven;
more conscious than ever before that this young wife was a possession to
be proud of, since, when she chose, she could eclipse even Olivia. The
jealousy which could so inspire her flattered his man’s vanity, and made
her love more precious; for not yet had he learned all its depth, nor
how to be worthy of it. The reverence he had always felt increased
fourfold, but the affection began to burn with a stronger flame; and
Canaris, for the first time, tasted the pure happiness of loving another
better than himself. Glad to feel, yet ashamed to own, a sentiment whose
sincerity made it very sweet, he kept it to himself, and showed no sign,
except a new and most becoming humility of manner when with Gladys, as
if silently asking pardon for many shortcomings. With Helwyze he was
cold and distant, evidently dreading to have him discover the change he
had foretold, and feeling as if his knowledge of it would profane the
first really sacred emotion the young man had known since his mother
died.

Anxious for some screen behind which to hide the novel, yet most
pleasurable, sensations which beset him, he found Olivia a useful
friend, and still kept up some semblance of the admiration, out of which
all dangerous ardor was fast fading. She saw this at once, and did not
regret it: for she had a generous nature, which an all-absorbing and
unhappy passion had not entirely spoiled.

Obedience to Helwyze was her delight; but, knowing him better than any
other human being could, she was troubled by his increasing interest in
Gladys, more especially since discovering that the girl possessed the
originality, fire, and energy which were more attractive to him than her
youth, gentleness, or grace. Jealousy was stronger than the desire to
obey; and, calling it compassion, Olivia resolved to be magnanimous, and
spare Gladys further pain, letting Canaris return to his allegiance, as
he seemed inclined to do, unhindered by any act of hers.

“The poor child is so young, so utterly unable to cope with me, it is
doubly cruel to torment her, just to gratify a whim of Jasper’s. Better
make my peace handsomely, and be her friend, than rob her of the only
treasure she possesses, since I do not covet it,” she thought, driving
through the May-day sunshine, to carry Jasper the earliest sprays of
white and rosy hawthorn from the villa garden, whither she had been to
set all in order for the summer.

Helwyze was not yet visible; and, full of her new design, Olivia
hastened up to find Gladys, meaning by some friendly word, some
unmistakable but most delicate hint, to reassure her regarding the
errant young husband, whom she had not yet learned to hold.

There was no answer to her hasty tap, and Olivia went in to seek yet
further. Half-way across the larger apartment she paused abruptly, and
stood looking straight before her, with a face which passed rapidly from
its first expression of good-will to one of surprise, then softened,
till tears stood in the brilliant eyes, and some sudden memory or
thought made that usually proud countenance both sad and tender.

Gladys sat alone in her little room, her work lying on her knee, her
arms folded, her head bent, singing to herself as she rocked to and fro,
lost in some reverie that made her lips smile faintly, and her voice
very low. She often sat so now, but Olivia had never seen her thus; and,
seeing, divined at once the hope which lifted her above all sorrow, the
help sent by Heaven, when most she needed it. For the song Gladys sang
was a lullaby, the look she wore was that which comes to a woman’s face
when she rocks her first-born on her knee, and above her head was a new
picture, an angel, with the Lily of Annunciation in its hand.

The one precious memory of Olivia’s stormy life was the little daughter,
who for a sweet, short year was all in all to her, and whose small grave
was yearly covered with the first spring flowers. Fresh from this secret
pilgrimage, the woman’s nature was at its noblest now; and seeing that
other woman, so young, so lonely, yet so blest, her heart yearned over
her,—

                 “All her worser self slipped from her
                 Like a robe,”—

and, hurrying in, she said, impulsively,—

“O child, I wish you had a mother!”

Gladys looked up, unstartled from the calm in which she dwelt. Olivia’s
face explained her words, and she answered them with the only reproach
much pain had wrung from her,—

“_You_ might have been one to me.”

“It is not too late! What shall I do to prove my sincerity?” cried
Olivia, stricken with remorse.

“Help me to give my little child an honest father.”

“I will! show me how.”

Then these two women spent a memorable hour together; for the new tie of
motherhood bridged across all differences of age and character, made
confession easy, confidence sweet, friendship possible. Yet, after all,
Gladys was the comforter, Olivia the one who poured out her heart, and
found relief in telling the sorrows that had been, the temptations that
still beset her, the good that yet remained to answer, when the right
chord was touched. She longed to give as much as she received; but when
she had owned, with a new sense of shame, that she was merely playing
with Canaris for her own amusement (being true to Helwyze even in her
falsehood), there seemed no more for her to do, since Gladys asked but
one other question, and that she could not answer.

“If he does not love you, and, perhaps, it is as you say,—only a poet’s
admiration for beauty,—what _is_ the trouble that keeps us apart? At
first I was too blindly happy to perceive it; now tears have cleared my
eyes, and I see that he hides something from me,—something which he
longs, yet dares not tell.”

“I know: I saw it long ago; but Jasper alone can tell that secret. He
holds Felix by it, and I fear the knowledge would be worse than the
suspicion. Let it be: time sets all things right, and it is ill
thwarting my poor cousin. I have a charming plan for you and Felix; and,
when you have him to yourself, you may be able to win his confidence,
as, I am sure, you have already won his heart.”

Then Olivia told her plan, which was both generous and politic; since it
made Gladys truly happy, proved her own sincerity, secured her own peace
and that of the men whose lives seemed to become more and more
inextricably tangled together.

“Now I shall go to Jasper, and conquer all his opposition; for I know I
am right. Dear little creature, what is it about you that makes one feel
both humble and strong when one is near you?” asked Olivia, looking down
at Gladys with a hand on either shoulder, and genuine wonder in the eyes
still soft with unwonted tears.

“God made me truthful, and I try to keep so; that is all,” she answered,
simply.

“That is enough. Kiss me, Gladys, and make me better. I am not good
enough to be the mother that I might have been to you; but I _am_ a
friend; believe that, and trust me, if you can?”

“I do;” and Gladys sealed her confidence with both lips and hand.

“Jasper, I have invited those children to spend the summer at the villa,
since you have decided for the sea. Gladys is mortally tired of this
hot-house life, so is Felix: give them a long holiday, or they will run
away together. Mrs. Bland and I will take care of you till they come
back.”

Olivia walked in upon Helwyze with this abrupt announcement, well
knowing that persuasion would be useless, and vigorous measures surest
to win the day. Artful as well as courageous in her assault, she
answered in that one speech several objections against her plan, and
suggested several strong reasons for it, sure that he would yield the
first, and own the latter.

He did, with unexpected readiness; for a motive which she could not
fathom prompted his seemingly careless acquiescence. He had no thought
of relinquishing his hold on Canaris, since through him alone he held
Gladys; but he often longed to escape from both for a time, that he
might study and adjust the new power which had come into his life,
unbidden, undesired. Surprise and disappointment were almost
instantaneously followed by a sense of relief when Olivia spoke; for he
saw at once that this project was a wiser one than she knew.

Before her rapid sentences were ended, the thought had come and gone,
the decision was made, and he could answer, in a tone of indifference
which both pleased and perplexed her,—

“Amiable woman, with what helpful aspirations are you blest. Seeing your
failure with Felix, I have been wondering how I should get rid of him
till he recovers from this comically tardy passion for his wife. They
can have another and a longer honeymoon up at the villa, if they like:
the other was far from romantic, I suspect. Well, why that sphinx-like
expression, if you please?” he added, as Olivia stood regarding him from
behind the fading hawthorn which she forgot to offer.

“I was wondering if I should ever understand you, Jasper.”

“Doubtful, since I shall never understand myself.”

“You ought, if any man; for you spend your life in studying yourself.”

“And the more I study, the less I know. It is very like a child with a
toy ark: I never know what animal may appear first. I put in my hand for
a dove, and I get a serpent; I open the door for the sagacious elephant,
and out rushes a tiger; I think I have found a favorite dog, and it is a
wolf, looking ready to devour me. An unsatisfactory toy, better put it
away and choose another.”

Helwyze spoke in the half-jesting, half-serious way habitual to him; but
though his mouth smiled, his eyes were gloomy, and Olivia hastened to
turn his thoughts from a subject in which he took a morbid interest.

“Fanciful, but true. Now, follow your own excellent advice, and find
wholesome amusement in helping me pack off the young people, and then
ourselves. It is not too early for them to go at once. Canaris can come
in and out as you want him for a month longer, then I will have all
things ready for you in the old cottage by the sea. You used to be happy
there: can you not be so again?”

“If you can give me back my twenty years. May-day is over for both of
us; why try to make the dead hawthorn bloom again? Carry out your plan,
and let the children be happy.”

They _were_ very happy; for the prospect of entire freedom was so
delicious, that Gladys had some difficulty in concealing her delight,
while Canaris openly rejoiced when told of Olivia’s offer. All
dinner-time he was talking of it; and afterward, under pretence of
showing her a new plant, he took his wife into the conservatory, that he
might continue planning how they should spend this unexpected holiday.

Helwyze saw them wandering arm in arm; Canaris talking rapidly, and
Gladys listening, with happy laughter, to his whimsical suggestions and
projects. Their content displeased the looker-on; but there was
something so attractive in the flower-framed picture of beauty, youth,
and joy, that he could not turn his eyes away, although the sight
aroused strangely conflicting thoughts within him.

He wished them gone, yet dreaded to lose the charm of his confined life,
feeling that absence would inevitably become estrangement. Canaris never
would be entirely his again; for he was slowly climbing upward into a
region where false ambition could not blind, mere pleasure satisfy, nor
license take the place of liberty. He had not planned to ruin the youth,
but simply to let “the world, the flesh, and the devil” contend against
such virtues as they found, while he sat by and watched the struggle.

As Olivia predicted, however, power was a dangerous gift to such a man;
and, having come to feel that Canaris belonged to him, body and soul, he
was ill-pleased at losing him just when a new interest was added to
their lives.

Yet losing him he assuredly was; and something like wonder mingled with
his chagrin, for this girl, whom he had expected to mould to his will,
exerted over him, as well as Canaris, a soft control which he could
neither comprehend nor conquer. Its charm was its unconsciousness, its
power was its truth; for it won gently and held firmly the regard it
sought. She certainly did possess the gift of surprises; for, although
brought there as a plaything, “little Gladys,” without apparent effort,
had subjugated haughty Olivia, wayward Felix, ruthless Helwyze; and none
rebelled against her. She ruled them by the irresistible influence of a
lovely womanhood, which made her daily life a sweeter poem than any they
could write.

“Why did I not keep her for myself? If she can do so much for him, what
might she not have done for me, had I been wise enough to wait,” thought
Helwyze, watching the bright-haired figure that stood looking up to the
green roof whence Canaris was gathering passion-flowers.

As if some consciousness of his longing reached her, Gladys turned to
look into the softly lighted room beyond, and, seeing its master sit
there solitary in the midst of its splendor, she obeyed the
compassionate impulse which was continually struggling against doubt and
dislike.

“It must seem very selfish and ungrateful in us to be so glad. Come,
Felix, and amuse him as well as me,” she said, in a tone meant for his
ear alone. But Helwyze heard both question and answer.

“I have been court-fool long enough. ’Tis a thankless office, and I am
tired of it,” replied Canaris, in the tone of a prisoner asked to go
back when the door of his cell stands open.

“_I_ must go, for there is Jean with coffee. Follow, like a good boy,
when you have put your posy into a song, which I will set to music by
and by, as your reward,” said Gladys, turning reluctantly away.

“You make goodness so beautiful, that it is easy to obey. There is my
posy set to music at once, for you are a song without words, _cariña_;”
and Canaris threw the vine about her neck, with a look and a laugh which
made it hard for her to go.

Jean not only brought coffee, but the card of a friend for Felix, who
went away, promising to return. Gladys carefully prepared the black and
fragrant draught which Helwyze loved, and presented it, with a sweet
friendliness of mien which would have made hemlock palatable, he
thought.

“Shall I sing to you till Felix comes to give you something better?” she
asked, offering her best, as if anxious to atone for the sin of being
happy at the cost of pain to another.

“Talk a little first. There will be time for both before he remembers us
again,” answered Helwyze, motioning her to a seat beside him, with the
half-imperative, half-courteous, look and gesture habitual to him.

“He will not forget: Felix always keeps his promises to me,” said
Gladys, with an air of gentle pride, taking her place, not beside, but
opposite, Helwyze, on the couch where Elaine had laid not long ago.

This involuntary act of hers gave a tone to the conversation which
followed; for Helwyze, being inwardly perturbed, was seized with a
desire to hover about dangerous topics: and, seeing her sit there, so
near and yet so far, so willing to serve, yet so completely mistress of
herself, longed to ruffle that composure, if only to make her share the
disquiet of which she was the cause.

“Always?” he said, lifting his brows with an incredulous expression, as
he replied to her assertion.

“I seldom ask any promise of him, but when I do, he always keeps it. You
doubt that?”

“I do.”

“When you know him as well as I, you will believe it.”

“I flatter myself that I know him better; and, judging from the past,
should call him both fickle and, in some things, false, even to you.”

Up sprung the color to Gladys’s cheek, and her eyes shone with sudden
fire, but her voice was low and quiet, as she answered quickly,—

“One is apt to look for what one wishes to find: _I_ seek fidelity and
truth, and I shall not be disappointed. Felix may wander, but he will
come back to me: I have learned how to hold him _now_.”

“Then you are wiser than I. Pray impart the secret;” and, putting down
his cup, Helwyze regarded her intently, for he saw that the spirit of
the woman was roused to defend her wifely rights.

“Nay, I owe it to you; and, since it has prevailed against your
enchantress, I should thank you for it.”

The delicate emphasis on the words, “your enchantress,” enlightened him
to the fact that Gladys divined, in part at least, the cause of Olivia’s
return. He did not deny, but simply answered, with a curious contrast
between the carelessness of the first half of his reply, with the vivid
interest of the latter,—

“Olivia has atoned for her sins handsomely. But what do you owe _me_? I
have taught you nothing. I dare not try.”

“I did not know my own power till you showed it to me; unintentionally,
I believe, and unconsciously, I used it to such purpose that Felix felt
pride in the wife whom he had thought a child before. I mean the night I
sang and acted yonder, and did both well, thanks to you.”

“I comprehend, and hope to be forgiven, since I gave you help or
pleasure,” he answered, with no sign of either confusion or regret,
though the thought shot through his mind, “Can she remember what came
after?”

“Questionable help, and painful pleasure, yet it was a memorable hour
and a useful one; so I pardon you, since after the troubled delusion
comes a happy reality.”

There was a double meaning in her words, and a double reproach in the
glance which went from the spot where she had played her part, to the
garland still about her neck.

“Your yoke is a light one, and you wear it gracefully. Long may it be
so.”

Helwyze thought to slip away thus from the subject; for those accusing
eyes were hard to meet. But Gladys seemed moved to speak with more than
her usual candor, as if anxious to leave no doubts behind her; and,
sitting in the self-same place, uttered words which moved him even more
than those which she had whispered in her tormented sleep.

“No, my yoke is not light;” she said, in that grave, sweet voice of
hers, looking down at the mystic purple blossom on her breast, with the
symbols of a divine passion at its heart. “I put it on too ignorantly,
too confidingly, and at times the duties, the responsibilities, which I
assumed with it weigh heavily. I am just learning how beautiful they
are, how sacred they should be, and trying to prove worthy of them. I
know that Felix did not love as I loved, when he married me,—from pity,
I believe. No one told me this: I felt, I guessed it, and would have
given him back his liberty, if, after patient trial, I had found that I
could not make him happy.”

“Can you?”

“Yes, thank God! not only happy, but good; and henceforth duty is
delight, for I can teach him to love as I love, and he is glad to learn
of me.”

Months before, when the girl Gladys had betrayed her maiden tenderness,
she had glowed like the dawn, and found no language but her blushes; now
the woman sat there steadfast and passion-pale, owning her love with the
eloquence of fervent speech; both pleading and commanding, in the name
of wifehood and motherhood, for the right to claim the man she had won
at such cost.

“And if you fail?”

“I shall not fail, unless you come between us. I have won Olivia’s
promise not to tempt Felix’s errant fancy with her beauty. Can I not win
yours to abstain from troubling his soul with still more harmful trials?
It is to ask this that I speak now, and I believe I shall not speak in
vain.”

“Why?”

Helwyze bent and looked into her face as he uttered that one word below
his breath. He dared do no more; for there was that about her,
perilously frank and lovely though she was, which held in check his
lawless spirit, and made it reverence, even while it rebelled against
her power over him.

She neither shrank nor turned aside, but studied earnestly that unmoved
countenance which hid a world of wild emotion so successfully, that even
her eyes saw no token of it, except the deepening line between the
brows.

“Because I am bold enough to think I know you better even than Olivia
does; that you are not cold and cruel, and, having given me the right to
live for Felix, you will not disturb our peace; that, if I look into
your soul, as I looked into my husband’s, I shall find there what I
seek,—justice as well as generosity.”

“You shall!”

“I knew you would not disappoint me. For this promise I am more grateful
than words can express, since it takes away all fear for Felix, and
shows me that I was right in appealing to the heart which you try to
kill. Ah! be your best self always, and so make life a blessing, not the
curse you often call it,” she added, giving him a smile like sunshine, a
cordial glance which was more than he could bear.

“With you I am. Stay, and show me how to do it,” he began, stretching
both hands towards her with an almost desperate urgency in voice and
gesture.

But Gladys neither saw nor heard; for at that moment Felix came through
the hall singing one of the few perfect love songs in the world,—

                       “Che farò senza Eurydice.”

“See, he does keep his promise to me: I knew he would come back!” she
cried delightedly, and hurried to meet him, leaving Helwyze nothing but
the passion-flowers to fill his empty hands.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XV.


“Back again, earlier than before. But not to stay long, thank Heaven! By
another month we will be truly at home, my Gladys,” whispered Canaris,
as they went up the steps, in the mellow September sunshine.

“I hope so!” she answered, fervently, and paused an instant before
entering the door; for, coming from the light and warmth without, it
seemed as dark and chilly as the entrance to a tomb.

“You are tired, love? Come and rest before you see a soul.”

With a new sort of tenderness, Canaris led her up to her own little
bower, and lingered there to arrange the basket of fresh recruits she
had brought for her winter garden: while Gladys lay contentedly on the
couch where he placed her, looking about the room as if greeting old
friends; but her eyes always came back to him, full of a reposeful
happiness which proved that all was well with her.

“There! now the little fellows sit right comfortably in the moss, and
will soon feel at home. I’ll go find Mother Bland, and see what his
Serene Highness is about,” said the young man, rising from his work,
warm and gay, but in no haste to go, as he had been before.

Gladys remembered that; and when, at last, he left her, she shut her
eyes to re-live, in thought, the three blissful months she had spent in
teaching him to love her with the love in which self bears no part.
Before the happy reverie was half over, the old lady arrived; and, by
the time the young one was ready, Canaris came to fetch her.

“My dearest, I am afraid we must give up our plan,” he said, softly, as
he led her away: “Helwyze is so changed, I come to tell you, lest it
should shock you when you see him. I think it would be cruel to go at
once. Can you wait a little longer?”

“If we ought. How is he changed?”

“Just worn away, as a rock is by the beating of the sea, till there
seems little left of him except the big eyes and greater sharpness of
both tongue and temper. Say nothing about it, and seem not to notice it;
else he will freeze you with a look, as he did me when I exclaimed.”

“Poor man! we will be very patient, very kind; for it must be awful to
think of dying with no light beyond,” sighed Gladys, touching the cross
at her white throat.

“A Dante without a Beatrice: I am happier than he;” and Canaris laid his
cheek against hers with the gesture of a boy, the look of a man who has
found the solace which is also his salvation.

Helwyze received them quietly, a little coldly, even; and Gladys
reproached herself with too long neglect of what she had assumed as a
duty, when she saw how ill he looked, for _his_ summer had not been a
blissful one. He had spent it in wishing for her, and in persuading
himself that the desire was permissible, since he asked nothing but what
she had already given him,—her presence and her friendship. It was her
intellect he loved and wanted, not her heart; that she might give her
husband wholly, since he understood and cared for affection only: her
mind, with all its lovely possibilities, Helwyze coveted, and reasoned
himself into the belief that he had a right to enjoy it, conscious all
the while that his purpose was a delusion and a snare. Olivia had
mourned over the moody taciturnity which made a lonely cranny of the
cliffs his favorite resort, where he sat, day after day, watching, with
an irresistible fascination, the ever-changing sea,—beautiful and bitter
as the hidden tide of thought and feeling in his own breast, where lay
the image of Gladys, as placid, yet as powerful, as the moon which ruled
the ebb and flow of that vaster ocean. Being a fatalist for want of a
higher faith, he left all to chance, and came home simply resolved to
enjoy what was left him as long and as unobtrusively as possible; since
Felix owed him much, and Gladys need never know what she had prayed
_not_ to know.

Sitting at the table, as they sat almost a year ago, he watched the two
young faces as he had done then, finding each, unlike his own, changed
for the better. Gladys was a girl no longer; and the new womanliness
which had come to her was of the highest type, for inward beauty lent
its imperishable loveliness to features faulty in themselves, and
character gave its indescribable charm to the simplest manners. Helwyze
saw all this; and perceiving also how much heart had already quickened
intellect, began to long for both, and to grudge his pupil to her new
master.

Canaris seemed to have lost something of his boyish comeliness, and had
taken on a manlier air of strength and stability, most becoming, and
evidently a source of pardonable pride to him. At his age even three
months could work a serious alteration in one so easily affected by all
influences; and Helwyze felt a pang of envy as he saw the broad
shoulders and vigorous limbs, the wholesome color in the cheeks, and
best of all, the serene content of a happy heart.

“What have you been doing to yourself, Felix? Have you discovered the
Elixir of Life up there? If so, impart the secret, and let me have a
sip,” he said, as Canaris pushed away his plate after satisfying a
hearty appetite with the relish of a rustic.

“Gladys did,” he answered, with a nod across the table, which said much.
“She would not let me idle about while waiting for ideas: she just set
me to work. I dug acres, it seemed to me, and amazed the gardener with
my exploits. Liked it, too; for she was overseer, and would not let me
off till I had done my task and earned my wages. A wonderfully pleasant
life, and I am the better for it, in spite of my sunburn and blisters;”
and Canaris stretched out a pair of sinewy brown hands with an air of
satisfaction which made Gladys laugh so blithely it was evident that
their summer had been full of the innocent jollity of youth, fine
weather, and congenial pastime.

“Adam and Eve in Eden, with all the modern improvements. Not even a tree
of knowledge or a serpent to disturb you!”

“Oh, yes, we had them both; but we only ate the good fruit, and the
snake did not tempt me!” cried Gladys, anxious to defend her Paradise
even from playful mockery.

“He did me. I longed to kill him, but my Eve owed him no grudge, and
would not permit me to do it; so the old enemy sunned himself in peace,
and went into winter quarters a reformed reptile, I am sure.”

Canaris did not look up as he spoke, but Helwyze asked hastily,—

“I hope you harvested a few fresh ideas for winter work? We ought to
have something to show after so laborious a summer.”

“I have: I am going to write a novel or a play. I cannot decide which;
but rather lean toward the latter, and, being particularly happy, feel
inclined to write a tragedy;” and something beside the daring of an
ambitious author sparkled in the eyes Canaris fixed upon his patron. It
looked too much like the expression of a bondman about to become a
freeman to suit Helwyze; but he replied, as imperturbably as ever,—

“Try the tragedy, by all means: the novel would be beyond you.”

“Why, if you please?” demanded Canaris, loftily.

“Because you have neither patience nor experience enough to do it well.
Goethe says: ‘In the novel it is _sentiments_ and _events_ that are
exhibited; in the drama it is _characters_ and _deeds_. The novel goes
slowly forward, the drama must hasten. In the novel, some degree of
scope may be allowed to chance; but it must be led and guided by the
sentiments of the personages. Fate, on the other hand, which, by means
of outward, unconnected circumstances, carries forward men, without
their own concurrence, to an unforeseen catastrophe, can only have place
in the drama. Chance may produce pathetic situations, but not tragic
ones.’”

Helwyze paused there abruptly; for the memory which served him so well
outran his tongue, and recalled the closing sentence of the
quotation,—words which he had no mind to utter then and there,—“Fate
ought always to be terrible; and it is in the highest sense tragic, when
it brings into a ruinous concatenation the guilty man and the guiltless
with him.”

“Then you think I _could_ write a play?” asked Canaris, with affected
carelessness.

“I think you could act one, better than imagine or write it.”

“What, I?”

“Yes, you; because you are dramatic by nature, and it is easier for you
to express yourself in gesture and tone, than by written or spoken
language. You were born for an actor, are fitted for it in every way,
and I advise you to try it. It would pay better than poetry; and that
stream _may_ run dry.”

Gladys looked indignant at what she thought bad advice and distasteful
pleasantry; but Canaris seemed struck and charmed with the new idea,
protesting that he would first write, then act, his play, and prove
himself a universal genius.

No more was said just then; but long afterward the conversation came
back to him like an inspiration, and was the seed of a purpose which,
through patient effort, bore fruit in a brilliant and successful career:
for Canaris, like many another man, did not know his own strength or
weakness yet, neither the true gift nor the power of evil which lay
unsuspected within him.

So the old life began again, at least in outward seeming; but it was
impossible for it to last long. The air was too full of the electricity
of suppressed and conflicting emotions to be wholesome; former relations
could not be resumed, because sincerity had gone out of them; and the
quiet, which reigned for a time, was only the lull before the storm.

Gladys soon felt this, but tried to think it was owing to the contrast
between the free, happy days she had enjoyed so much, and uttered no
complaint; for Felix was busy with his play, sanguine as ever, inspired
now by a nobler ambition than before, and happy in his work.

Helwyze had flattered himself that he could be content with the harmless
shadow, since he could not possess the sweet substance of a love whose
seeming purity was its most delusive danger. But he soon discovered “how
bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes;”
and, even while he made no effort to rob Canaris of his treasure, he
hated him for possessing it, finding the hatred all the more poignant,
because it was his own hand which had forced Felix to seize and secure
it. He had thought to hold and hide this new secret; but it held him,
and would not be hidden, for it was stronger than even his strong will,
and ruled him with a power which at times filled him with a sort of
terror. Having allowed it to grow, and taken it to his bosom, he could
not cast it out again, and it became a torment, not the comfort he had
hoped to find it. His daily affliction was to see how much the young
pair were to each other, to read in their faces a hundred happy hopes
and confidences in which he had no part, and to remember the confession
wrung from the lips dearest to him, that his death would bring to them
their much-desired freedom.

At times he was minded to say “Go,” but the thought of the utter blank
her absence would leave behind daunted him. Often an almost
uncontrollable desire to tell her that which would mar her trust in her
husband tempted him; for, having yielded to a greater temptation, all
lesser ones seemed innocent beside it; and, worse than all, the old
morbid longing for some excitement, painful even, if it could not be
pleasurable, goaded him to the utterance of half truths, which irritated
Canaris and perplexed Gladys, till she could no longer doubt the cause
of this strange mood. It seemed as if her innocent hand gave the touch
which set the avalanche slipping swiftly but silently to its destructive
fall.

One day when Helwyze was pacing to and fro in the library, driven by the
inward storm which no outward sign betrayed, except his excessive pallor
and unusual restlessness, she looked up from her book, asking
compassionately,—

“Are you suffering, sir?”

“Torment.”

“Can I do nothing?”

“Nothing!”

She went on reading, as if glad to be left in peace; for distrust, as
well as pity, looked out from her frank eyes, and there was no longer
any pleasure in the duties she performed for Canaris’s sake.

But Helwyze, jealous even of the book which seemed to absorb her, soon
paused again, to ask, in a calmer tone,—

“What interests you?”

“‘The Scarlet Letter.’”

The hands loosely clasped behind him were locked more closely by an
involuntary gesture, as if the words made him wince; otherwise unmoved,
he asked again, with the curiosity he often showed about her opinions of
all she read,—

“What do you think of Hester?”

“I admire her courage; for she repented, and did not hide her sin with a
lie.”

“Then you must despise Dimmesdale?”

“I ought, perhaps; but I cannot help pitying his weakness, while I
detest his deceit: he loved so much.”

“So did Roger;” and Helwyze drew nearer, with the peculiar flicker in
his eyes, as of a light kindled suddenly behind a carefully drawn
curtain.

“At first; then his love turned to hate, and he committed the
unpardonable sin,” answered Gladys, much moved by that weird and
wonderful picture of guilt and its atonement.

“The unpardonable sin!” echoed Helwyze, struck by her words and manner.

“Hawthorne somewhere describes it as ‘the want of love and reverence for
the human soul, which makes a man pry into its mysterious depths, not
with a hope or purpose of making it better, but from a cold,
philosophical curiosity. This would be the separation of the intellect
from the heart: and this, perhaps, would be as unpardonable a sin as to
doubt God, whom we cannot harm; for in doing this we must inevitably do
great wrong both to ourselves and others.’”

As she spoke, fast and earnestly, Gladys felt herself upon the brink of
a much-desired, but much-dreaded, explanation; for Canaris, while owning
to her that there _was_ a secret, would not tell it till Helwyze freed
him from his promise. She thought that he delayed to ask this absolution
till she was fitter to bear the truth, whatever it might be; and she had
resolved to spare her husband the pain of an avowal, by demanding it
herself of Helwyze. The moment seemed to have come, and both knew it;
for he regarded her with the quick, piercing look which read her purpose
before she could put it into words.

“You are right; yet Roger was the wronged one, and the others deserved
to suffer.”

“They did; but Hester’s suffering ennobled her, because nobly borne;
Dimmesdale’s destroyed him, because he paltered weakly with his
conscience. Roger let his wrong turn him from a man into a devil, and
deserves the contempt and horror he rouses in us. The keeping of the
secret makes the romance; the confession of it is the moral, showing how
falsehood can ruin a life, and truth only save it at the last.”

“Never have a secret, Gladys: they are hard masters, whom we hate, yet
dare not rebel against.”

His accent of sad sincerity seemed to clear the way for her, and she
spoke out, briefly and bravely,—

“Sir, _you_ dare any thing! Tell me what it is which makes Felix obey
you against his will. He owns it, but will not speak till you consent.
Tell me, I beseech you!”

“Could you bear it?” he asked, admiring her courage, yet doubtful of the
wisdom of purchasing a moment’s satisfaction at such a cost; for, though
he could cast down her idol, he dared not set up another in its place.

“Try me!” she cried: “nothing can lessen my love, and doubt afflicts me
more than the hardest truth.”

“I fear not: with you love and respect go hand in hand, and some sins
you would find very hard to pardon.”

Involuntarily Gladys shrunk a little, and her eye questioned his
inscrutable face, as she answered slowly, thinking only of her husband,—

“Something very mean and false _would_ be hard to forgive; but not some
youthful fault, some shame borne for others, or even a crime, if a very
human emotion, a generous but mistaken motive, led to it.”

“Then this secret is better left untold; for it would try you sorely to
know that Felix _had_ been guilty of the fault you find harder to
forgive than a crime,—deceit. Wait a little, till you are accustomed to
the thought, then you shall have the facts; and pity, even while you
must despise, him.”

While he spoke, Gladys sat like one nerving herself to receive a blow;
but at the last words she suddenly put up her hand as if to arrest it,
saying, hurriedly,—

“No! do not tell me; I cannot bear it yet, nor from you. He shall tell
me; it will be easier so, and less like treachery. O sir,” she added, in
a passionately pleading tone, “use mercifully whatever bitter knowledge
you possess! Remember how young he is, how neglected as a boy, how
tempted he may have been; and deal generously, honorably with him,—and
with me.”

Her voice broke there. She spread her hands before her eyes, and fled
out of the room, as if in his face she read a more disastrous confession
than any Felix could ever make. Helwyze stood motionless, looking as he
looked the night she spoke more frankly but less forcibly: and when she
vanished, he stole away to his own room, as he stole then; only now his
usually colorless cheek burned with a fiery flush, and his hand went
involuntarily to his breast, as if, like Dimmesdale, he carried an
invisible scarlet letter branded there.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                  XVI.


Neither had heard the door of that inner room open quietly; neither had
seen Canaris stand upon the threshold for an instant, then draw back,
looking as if he had found another skeleton to hide in the cell where he
was laboring at the third act of the tragedy which he was to live, not
write.

He had heard the last words Gladys said, he had seen the last look
Helwyze wore, and, like a flash of lightning, the truth struck and
stunned him. At first he sat staring aghast at the thing he plainly saw,
yet hardly comprehended. Then a sort of fury seized and shook him, as he
sprang up with hands clenched, eyes ablaze, looking as if about to
instantly avenge the deadliest injury one man could do another. But the
half savage self-control adversity had taught stood him in good stead
now, curbing the first natural but reckless wrath which nerved every
fibre of his strong young body with an almost irresistible impulse to
kill Helwyze without a word.

The gust of blind passion subsided quickly into a calmer, but not less
dangerous, mood; and, fearing to trust himself so near his enemy,
Canaris rushed away, to walk fast and far, unconscious where he went,
till the autumnal gloaming brought him back, master of himself, he
thought.

While he wandered aimlessly about the city, he had been recalling the
past with the vivid skill which at such intense moments seems to bring
back half-forgotten words, apparently unnoticed actions, and unconscious
impressions; as fire causes invisible letters to stand out upon a page
where they are traced in sympathetic ink.

Not a doubt of Gladys disturbed the ever-deepening current of a love the
more precious for its newness, the more powerful for its ennobling
influence. But every instinct of his nature rose in revolt against
Helwyze, all the more rebellious and resentful for the long subjection
in which he had been held.

A master stronger than the ambition which had been the ruling passion of
his life so far asserted its supremacy now, and made it possible for him
to pay the price of liberty without further weak delay or unmanly
regret.

This he resolved upon, and this he believed he could accomplish safely
and soon. But if Helwyze, with far greater skill and self-control, had
failed to guide or subdue the conflicting passions let loose among them,
how could Canaris hope to do it, or retard by so much as one minute the
irresistible consequences of their acts? “The providence of God cannot
be hurried,” and His retribution falls at the appointed time, saving,
even when it seems to destroy.

Returning resolute but weary, Canaris was relieved to find that a still
longer reprieve was granted him; for Olivia was there, and Gladys
apparently absorbed in the tender toil women love, making ready for the
Christmas gift she hoped to give him. Helwyze sent word that he was
suffering one of his bad attacks, and bade them all good-night; so there
was nothing to mar the last quiet evening these three were ever to pass
together.

When Canaris had seen Olivia to the winter quarters she inhabited near
by, he went up to his own room, where Gladys lay, looking like a child
who had cried itself to sleep. The sight of the pathetic patience
touched with slumber’s peace, in the tear-stained face upon the pillow,
wrung his heart, and, stooping, he softly kissed the hand upon the
coverlet,—the small hand that wore a wedding-ring, now grown too large
for it.

“God bless my dearest!” he whispered, with a sob in his throat. “Out of
this accursed house she shall go to-morrow, though I leave all but love
and liberty behind me.”

Sleepless, impatient, and harassed by thoughts that would not let him
rest, he yielded to the uncanny attraction which the library now had for
him, and went down again, deluding himself with the idea that he could
utilize emotion and work for an hour or two.

The familiar room looked strange to him; and when the door of Helwyze’s
apartment opened quietly, he started, although it was only Stern, coming
to nap before the comfortable fire. Something in Canaris’s expectant air
and attitude made the man answer the question his face seemed to ask.

“Quiet at last, sir. He has had no sleep for many nights, and is fairly
worn out.”

“You look so, too. Go and rest a little. I shall be here writing for
several hours, and can see to him,” said Canaris, kindly, as the poor
old fellow respectfully tried to swallow a portentous gape behind his
hand.

“Thank you, Mr. Felix: it would be a comfort just to lose myself. Master
is not likely to want any thing; but, if he should call, just step and
give him his drops, please. They are all ready. I fixed them myself: he
is so careless when he is half-asleep, and, not being used to this new
stuff, an overdose might kill him.”

Giving these directions, Stern departed with alacrity, and left Canaris
to his watch. He had often done as much before, but never with such a
sense of satisfaction as now; and though he carefully abstained from
giving himself a reason for the act, no sooner had the valet gone than
he went to look in upon Helwyze, longing to call out commandingly,
“Wake, and hear me!”

But the helplessness of the man disarmed him, the peaceful expression of
the sharp, white features mutely reproached him, the recollection of
what he would awaken to made Canaris ashamed to exult over a defeated
enemy; and he turned away, with an almost compassionate glance at the
straight, still figure, clearly defined against the dusky background of
the darkened room.

“He looks as if he were dead.”

Canaris did not speak aloud, but it seemed as if a voice echoed the
words with a suggestive emphasis, that made him pause as he approached
the study-table, conscious of a quick thrill of comprehension tingling
through him like an answer. Why he covered both ears with a sudden
gesture, he could not tell, nor why he hastily seated himself, caught up
the first book at hand and began to read without knowing what he read.
Only for an instant, however, then the words grew clear before him, and
his eyes rested on this line,—

              “σύ θην ἃ χρῄζεις, ταῦτ’ ἐπιγλωσσᾷ Διός.”[1]

Footnote 1:

  “Thy ominous tongue gives utterance to thy wish.”

                                                               ÆSCHYLUS.

He dropped the book, as if it had burnt him, and looked over his
shoulder, almost expecting to see the dark thought lurking in his mind
take shape before him. Empty, dim, and quiet was the lofty room; but a
troubled spirit and distempered imagination peopled it with such vivid
and tormenting phantoms of the past, the present and the future, that he
scarcely knew whether he was awake or dreaming, as he sat there alone,
waiting for midnight, and the spectre of an uncommitted deed.

His wandering eye fell on a leaf of paper, lying half-shrivelled by the
heat of the red fire. This recalled the hour when, in the act of burning
that first manuscript, Helwyze had saved him, and all that followed
shortly after.

Not a pleasant memory, it seemed; for his face darkened, and his glance
turned to a purple-covered volume, left on the low chair where Gladys
usually sat, and often read in that beloved book. A still more bitter
recollection bowed his head at sight of it, till some newer, sharper
thought seemed to pierce him with a sudden stab, and he laid his
clenched hand on the pile of papers before him, as if taking an oath
more binding than the one made there nearly three years ago.

He had been reading Shakespeare lately, for one may copy the great
masters; and now, as he tried with feverish energy to work upon his
play, the grim or gracious models he had been studying seemed to rise
and live before him. But one and all were made subject to the strong
passions which ruled him; jealousy, ambition, revenge, and love wore
their appropriate guise, acted their appropriate parts, and made him one
with them. Othello would only show himself as stabbing the perfidious
Iago; Macbeth always grasped at the air-drawn dagger; Hamlet was
continually completing his fateful task; and Romeo whispered, with the
little vial at his lips,—

                               “Oh, true apothecary!
                   Thy drugs are quick.”

Canaris tried to chase away these troubled spirits; but they would not
down, and, yielding to them, he let his mind wander as it would, till he
had “supped full of horrors,” feeling as if in the grasp of a nightmare
which led him, conscious, but powerless, toward some catastrophe
forefelt, rather than foreseen. How long this lasted he never knew; for
nothing broke the silence growing momently more terrible as he listened
to the stealthy tread of the temptation coming nearer and nearer, till
it appeared in the likeness of himself, while a voice said, in the
ordinary tone which so often makes dreams grotesque at their most
painful climax,—

“Master is so careless when half-asleep; and, not being used to this new
stuff, an overdose might kill him.”

As if these words were the summons for which he had been waiting,
Canaris rose up suddenly and went into that other room, too entirely
absorbed by the hurrying emotions which swept him away to see what
looked like a new phantom coming in. It might have been the shade of
young Juliet, gentle Desdemona, poor Ophelia, or, better still the
_eidolen_ of Margaret wandering, pale and pensive, through the baleful
darkness of this _Walpurgis Nacht_.

He did not see it; he saw nothing but the glass upon the table where the
dim light burned, the little vial with its colorless contents, and
Helwyze stirring in his bed, as if about to wake and speak. Conscious
only of the purpose which now wholly dominated him, Canaris, without
either haste or hesitation, took the bottle, uncorked, and held it over
the glass half-filled with water. But before a single drop could fall a
cold hand touched his own, and, with a start that crushed the vial in
his grasp, he found himself eye to eye with Gladys.

Guilt was frozen upon his face, terror upon hers; but neither spoke, for
a third voice muttered drowsily, “Stern, give me more; don’t rouse me.”

Canaris could not stir; Gladys whispered, with white lips, and her hand
upon the cup,—“Dare I give it?”

He could only answer by a sign, and cowered into the shadow, while she
put the draught to Helwyze’s lips, fearing to let him waken now. He
drank drowsily, yet seemed half-conscious of her presence; for he looked
up with sleep-drunken eyes, and murmured, as if to the familiar figure
of a dream,—

“Mine asleep, his awake,” then whispering brokenly about “Felix, Vivien,
and daring any thing,” he was gone again into the lethargy which alone
could bring forgetfulness.

Gladys feared her husband would hear the almost inaudible words; but he
had vanished, and when she glided out to join him, carefully closing the
door behind her, a glance showed that her fear was true.

Relieved, yet not repentant, he stood there looking at a red stain on
his hand with such a desperate expression that Gladys could only cling
to him, saying, in a terror-stricken whisper,—

“Felix, for God’s sake, come away! What are you doing here?”

“Going mad, I think,” he answered, under his breath; but added, lifting
up his hand with an ominous gesture, “I would have done it if you had
not stopped me. It would be better for us all if he were dead.”

“Not so; thank Heaven I came in time to save you from the sin of
murder!” she said, holding fast the hand as yet unstained by any blood
but its own.

“I _have_ committed murder in my heart. Why not profit by the sin, since
it is there? I hate that man! I have cause, and you know it.”

“No, no, not all! You shall tell me every thing; but not now, not here.”

“The time has come, and this is the place to tell it. Sit there and
listen. I must untie or cut the snarl to-night.”

He pointed to the great chair; and, grateful for any thing that could
change or stem the dangerous current of his thoughts, Gladys sank down,
feeling as if, after this shock, she was prepared for any discovery or
disaster. Canaris stood before her, white and stern, as if he were both
judge and culprit; for a sombre wrath still burned in his eye, and his
face worked with the mingled shame and contempt warring within him.

“I heard and saw this afternoon, when you two talked together yonder,
and I knew then what made you so glad to go away, so loath to come back.
_You_ have had a secret as well as I.”

“I was never sure until to-day. Do not speak of that: it is enough to
know it, and forget it if we can. Tell your secret: it has burdened you
so long, you will be glad to end it. _He_ would have done so, but I
would not let him.”

“I thought it would be hard to tell you, yet now my fault looks so small
and innocent beside his, I can confess without much shame or fear.”

But it was not easy; for he had gone so far into a deeper, darker world
that night, it was difficult to come to lesser sins and lighter
thoughts. As he hesitated for a word, his eye fell upon the
purple-covered book, and he saw a way to shorten his confession.
Catching up a pen, he bent over the volume an instant, then handed it to
Gladys, open at the title-page. She knew it,—the dear romance, worn with
much reading,—and looked wonderingly at the black mark drawn through the
name, “Felix Canaris,” and the words, “Jasper Helwyze,” written boldly
below.

“What does it mean?” she asked, refusing to believe the discovery which
the expression of his averted face confirmed.

“That I am a living lie. He wrote that book.”

“He?”

“Every line.”

“But not the other?” she said; clinging to a last hope, as every thing
seemed falling about her.

“All, except half a dozen of the songs.”

Down dropped the book between them,—now a thing of little worth,—and,
trying to conceal from him the contempt which even love could not
repress, Gladys hid her face, with one reproach, the bitterest she could
have uttered,—

“O my husband! did you give up honor, liberty, and peace for so poor a
thing as that?”

It cut him to the soul: for now he saw how high a price he had paid for
an empty name; how mean and poor his ambition looked; how truly he
deserved to be despised for that of which he had striven to be proud.
Gladys had so rejoiced over him as a poet, that it was the hardest task
of all to put off his borrowed singing-robes, and show himself an
ordinary man. He forgot that there was any other tribunal than this, as
he stood waiting for his sentence, oppressed with the fear that out of
her almost stern sense of honor she might condemn him to the loss of the
respect and confidence which he had lately learned to value as much as
happiness and love.

“You must despise me; but if you knew”—he humbly began, unable to bear
the silence longer.

“Tell me, then. I will not judge until I know;” and Gladys, just, even
in her sorrow, looked up with an expression which said plainer than
words, “For better, for worse; this is the worse, but I love you still.”

That made it possible for him to go on, fast and low, not stopping to
choose phrases, but pouring out the little story of his temptation and
fall, with a sense of intense relief that he was done with slavery for
ever.

“Neither of us coolly planned this thing; it came about so simply and
naturally, it seemed a mere accident.—And yet, who can tell what _he_
might have planned, seeing how weak I was, how ready to be tempted.—It
happened in that second month, when I promised to stay; he to help me
with my book. It was _all_ mine then; but when we came to look at it,
there was not enough to fill even the most modest volume; for I had
burnt many, and must recall them, or write more. I tried honestly, but
the power was not in me, and I fell into despair again; for the desire
to be known was the breath of my life.”

“You will be, if not in this way, in some other; for power of some sort
_is_ in you. Believe it, and wait for it to show itself,” said Gladys,
anxious to add patience and courage to the new humility and sincerity,
which could not fail to ennoble and strengthen him in time.

“Bless you for that!” he answered, gratefully, and hurried on. “It came
about in this wise: one day my master—he was then, but is no longer,
thank God!—sat reading over a mass of old papers, before destroying
them. Here he came upon verses written in the diaries kept years ago,
and threw them to me, ‘to laugh over,’ as he said. I did not laugh: I
was filled with envy and admiration, and begged him to publish them. He
scorned the idea, and bade me put them in the fire. I begged to keep
them, and then,—Gladys, I swear to you I cannot tell whether I read the
project in his face, or whether my own evil genius put it into my
head,—then I said, audaciously, though hardly dreaming he would consent,
‘You do not care for fame, and throw these away as worthless: I long for
it, and see more power in these than in any I can hope to write for
years, perhaps; let me add them to mine, and see what will come of it.’
‘Put your own name to them, if you do, and take the consequences,’ he
answered, in that brusque way of his, which seems so careless, yet is so
often premeditated. I assented, as I would have done to any thing that
promised a quick trial of my talent; for in my secret soul I thought
some of my songs better than his metaphysical verses, which impressed,
rather than charmed me. The small imposture seemed to amuse him; I had
few scruples then, and we did it, with much private jesting about
Beaumont and Fletcher, literary frauds, and borrowed plumage. You know
the rest. The book succeeded, but he saved it; and the critics left me
small consolation, for my songs were ignored as youthful ditties, his
poems won all the praise, and _I_ was pronounced a second Shelley.”

“But he? Did he claim no share of the glory? Was he content to let you
have it all?” questioned Gladys, trying to understand a thing so foreign
to her nature that it seemed incredible.

“Yes; I offered to come down from my high place, as soon as I realized
how little right I had to it. But he forbade me, saying, what I was fool
enough to believe, that my talent only needed time and culture, and the
sunshine of success to ripen it; that notoriety would be a burden to
him, since he had neither health to sustain nor spirits to enjoy it;
that in me he would live his youth over again, and, in return for such
help as he could give, I should be a son to him. That touched and won
me; now I can see in it a trap to catch and hold me, that he might amuse
himself with my folly, play the generous patron, and twist my life to
suit his ends. He likes curious and costly toys; he had one then, and
has not paid for it yet.”

“This other book? Tell me of that, and speak low, or he may hear us,”
whispered Gladys, trembling lest fire and powder should meet.

With a motion of his foot Canaris sent the book that lay between them
spinning across the hearth-rug out of sight, and answered, with a short,
exultant laugh,—

“Ah! there the fowler was taken in his own snare. I did not see it then,
and found it hard to understand why he should exert himself to please
you by helping me. I thought it was a mere freak of literary rivalry;
and, when I taxed him with it, he owned that, though he cared nothing
for the world’s praise, it _was_ pleasant to know that his powers were
still unimpaired, and be able to laugh in his sleeve at the deluded
critics. That was like him, and it deceived me till to-day. Now I know
that he begrudged me your admiration, wanted your tears and smiles for
himself, and did not hesitate to steal them. The night he so adroitly
read _his_ work for mine, he tempted me through you. I had resolved to
deserve the love and honor you gave me; and again I tried, and again I
failed, for my romance was a poor, pale thing to his. He had read it;
and, taking the same plot, made it what you know, writing as only such a
man could write, when a strong motive stimulated him to do his best.”

“But why did you submit? Why stand silent and let him do so false a
thing?” cried poor Gladys, wondering when the end of the tangle would
come.

“At first his coolness staggered me; then I was curious to hear, then
held even, against my will, by admiration of the thing—and you. I meant
to speak out, I longed to do it; but it was very hard, while you were
praising me so eloquently. The words were on my lips, when in his face I
saw a look that sealed them. He meant that I should utter the
self-accusation which would lower me for ever and raise him in your
regard. I could not bear it. There was no time to think, only to feel,
and I vowed to make you happy, at all costs. I hardly thought he would
submit; but he did, and I believed that it was through surprise at being
outwitted for the moment, or pity towards you. It was neither: he
fancied I had discovered his secret, and he _dared_ not defy me then.”

“But when I was gone? You were so late that night: I heard your voices,
sharp and angry, as I went away.”

“Yes; that was _my_ hour, and I enjoyed it. He had often twitted me with
the hold he had on my name and fame, and I bore it; for, till I loved
you, they were the dearest things I owned. That night I told him he
_should not_ speak; that you should enjoy your pride in me, even at his
expense, and I refused to release him from his bond, as he had, more
than once, refused to release me: for we had sworn never to confess till
both agreed to it. Good heavens! how low he must have thought I had
fallen, if I could consent to buy your happiness at the cost of my
honor! He did think it: that made him yield; that is the cause of the
contempt he has not cared to hide from me since then; and that adds a
double edge to my hatred now. I was to be knave as well as fool; and
while I blinded myself with his reflected light, he would have filched
my one jewel from me. Gladys, save me, keep me, or I shall do something
desperate yet!”

Beside himself with humiliation, remorse, and wrath, Canaris flung
himself down before her, as if only by clinging to that frail spar could
he ride out the storm in which he was lost without compass or rudder.

Then Gladys showed him that such love as hers could not fail, but, like
an altar-fire, glowed the stronger for every costly sacrifice thrown
therein. Lifting up the discrowned head, she laid it on her bosom with a
sweet motherliness which comforted more than her tender words.

“My poor Felix! you have suffered enough for this deceit; I forgive it,
and keep my reproaches for the false friend who led you astray.”

“It was so paltry, weak, and selfish. You _must_ despise me,” he said,
wistfully, still thinking more of his own pain than hers.

“I do despise the sin, not the dear sinner who repents and is an honest
man again.”

“But a beggar.”

“We have each other. Hush! stand up; some one is coming.”

Canaris had barely time to spring to his feet, when Stern came in, and
was about to pass on in silence, though much amazed to see Gladys there
at that hour, when the expression of the young man’s face made him
forget decorum and stop short, exclaiming, anxiously,—

“Mr. Felix, what’s the matter? Is master worse?”

“Safe and asleep. Mrs. Canaris came to see what I was about.”

“Then, sir, if I may make so bold, the sooner she gets to bed again the
better. It is far too late for her to be down here; the poor young lady
looks half-dead,” Stern whispered, with the freedom of an old servant.

“You are right. Come, love;” and without another word Canaris led her
away, leaving Stern to shake his gray head as he looked after them.

Gladys _was_ utterly exhausted; and in the hall she faltered, saying,
with a patient sigh, as she looked up the long stairway, “Dear, wait a
little; it is so far,—my strength is all gone.”

Canaris caught her in his arms and carried her away, asking himself,
with a remorseful pang that rent his heart,—

“Is this the murder I have committed?”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 XVII.


“Stern!”

“Yes, sir.”

“What time is it?”

“Past two, sir.”

“What news? I see bad tidings of some sort in that lugubrious face of
yours; out with it!”

“The little boy arrived at dawn, sir,” answered old Stern, with a
paternal air.

“What little boy?”

“Canaris, Jr., sir,” simpered the valet, venturing to be jocose.

“The deuce he did! Precipitate, like his father. Where is Felix?”

“With her, sir. In a state of mind, as well he may be, letting that
delicate young thing sit up to keep him company over his poetry stuff,”
muttered Stern, busying himself with the shutters.

“Sit up! when? where? what are you maundering about, man?” and Helwyze
himself sat up among the pillows, looking unusually wide-awake.

“Last night, sir, in the study. Mr. Felix made me go for a wink of
sleep, and when I came back, about one, there sat Mrs. Canaris as white
as her gown, and him looking as wild as a hawk. Something was amiss, I
could see plain enough, but it wasn’t my place to ask questions; so I
just made bold to suggest that it was late for her to be up, and he took
her away, looking dazed-like. That’s all I know, sir, till I found the
women in a great flustration this morning.”

“And I slept through it all?”

“Yes, sir; so soundly, I was a bit anxious till you waked. I found the
glass empty and the bottle smashed, and I was afraid you might have
taken too much of that _choral_ while half-asleep.”

“No fear; nothing kills me. Now get me up;” and Helwyze made his toilet
with a speed and energy which caused Stern to consider “_choral_” a
wonderful discovery.

A pretence of breakfast; then Helwyze sat down to wait for further
tidings,—externally quite calm, internally tormented by a great anxiety,
till Olivia came in, full of cheering news and sanguine expectations.

“Gladys is asleep, with baby on her arm, and Felix adoring in the
background. Poor boy! he cannot bear much, and is quite bowed down with
remorse for something he has done. Do you know what?”

As she spoke, Olivia stooped to pick up a book half-hidden by the fringe
of a low chair. It lay face downward, and, in smoothing the crumpled
leaves before closing it, she caught sight of a black and blotted name.
So did Helwyze; a look of intelligence flashed over his face, and,
taking the volume quickly, he answered, with his finger on the
title-page,—

“Yes, now I know, and so may you; for if one woman is in the secret, it
will soon be out. Felix wrote that, and it is true.”

“I thought so! One woman _has_ known it for a long time; nevertheless,
the secret was kept for your sake;” and Olivia’s dark face sparkled with
malicious merriment, as she saw the expression of mingled annoyance,
pride, and pleasure in his.

“My compliments and thanks: you are the eighth wonder of the world. But
what led you to suspect this little fraud of ours?”

“I did not, till the last book came; then I was struck here and there by
certain peculiar phrases, certain tender epithets, which I think no one
ever heard from your lips but me. These, in the hero’s mouth, made me
sure that you had helped Canaris, if not done the whole yourself, and
his odd manner at times confirmed my suspicion.”

“You have a good memory: I forgot that.”

“I have had so few such words from you that it is easy to remember
them,” murmured Olivia, reproachfully.

It seemed to touch him; for just then he felt deserted, well knowing
that he had lost both Felix and Gladys; but Olivia never would desert
him, no matter what discovery was made, or who might fall away. He
thanked her for her devotion, with the first ray of hope given for
years, as he said, in the tone so seldom heard,—

“You shall have more henceforth; for you are a staunch friend, and now I
have no other.”

“Dear Jasper, you shall never find me wanting. _I_ will be true to the
death!” she cried, blooming suddenly into her best and brightest beauty,
with the delight of this rare moment. Then, fearing to express too much,
she wisely turned again to Felix, asking curiously, “But why did you let
this young daw deck himself out in your plumes? It enrages me, to think
of his receiving the praise and honor due to you.”

He told her briefly, adding, with more than his accustomed bitterness,—

“What did _I_ want with praise and honor? To be gaped and gossiped about
would have driven me mad. It pleased that vain boy as much as fooling
the public amused me. A whim, and, being a dishonest one, we shall both
have to pay for it, I suppose.”

“What will he do?”

“He has told Gladys, to begin with; and, if it had been possible, would
have taken some decisive step to-day. He can do nothing sagely and
quietly: there must be a dramatic _dénouement_ to every chapter of his
life. I think he has one now.” Helwyze laughed, as he struck back the
leaves of the book he still held, and looked at the dashing signature of
his own name.

“_He_ wrote that, then?” asked Olivia.

“Yes, here, at midnight, while I lay asleep and let him tell the tale as
he liked to Gladys. No wonder it startled her, so tragically given. The
sequel may be more tragic yet: I seem to feel it in the air.”

“What shall _you_ do?” asked Olivia, more anxiously than before; for
Helwyze looked up with as sinister an expression as if he knew how
desperate an enemy had stood over him last night, and when his own turn
came, would be less merciful.

“Do? Nothing. They will go; I shall stay; tongues will wag, and I shall
be tormented. I shall seem the gainer, he the loser; but it will not be
so.”

Involuntarily his eye went to the little chair where Gladys would sit no
longer, and darkened as if some light had gone out which used to cheer
and comfort him. Olivia saw it, and could not restrain the question that
broke from her lips,—

“You do love her, Jasper?”

“I shall miss her; but you shall take her place.”

Calm and a little scornful was his face, his voice quite steady, and a
smile was shed upon her with the last welcome words. But Olivia was not
deceived: the calmness was unnatural, the voice _too_ steady, the smile
too sudden; and her heart sank as she thanked him, without another
question. For a while they sat together playing well their parts, then
she went away to Gladys, and he was left to several hours of solitary
musing.

Had he been a better man, he would not have sinned; had he been a worse
one, he could not have suffered; being what he was, he did both, and,
having no one else to study now, looked deeply into himself, and was
dismayed at what he saw. For the new love, purer, yet more hopeless than
the old, shone like a star above an abyss, showing him whither he had
wandered in the dark.

Sunset came, filling the room with its soft splendor; and he watched the
red rays linger longest in Gladys’s corner. Her little basket stood as
she left it, her books lay orderly, her desk was shut, a dead flower
drooped from the slender vase, and across the couch trailed a soft white
shawl she had been wont to wear. Helwyze did not approach the spot, but
stood afar off looking at these small familiar things with the
melancholy fortitude of one inured to loss and pain. Regret rather than
remorse possessed him as he thought, drearily,—

“A year to-morrow since she came. How shall I exist without her? Where
will her new home be?”

An answer was soon given to the last question; for, while his fancy
still hovered about that nook, and the gentle presence which had
vanished as the sunshine was fast vanishing, Canaris came in wearing
such an expression of despair, that Helwyze recoiled, leaving
half-uttered a playful inquiry about “the little son.”

“I have no son.”

“Dead?”

“Dead. I have murdered both.”

“But Gladys?”

“Dying; she asks for you,—come!” No need of that hoarse command; Helwyze
was gone at the first word, swiftly through room and hall, up the stairs
he had not mounted for months, straight to that chamber-door. There a
hand clutched his shoulder, a breathless voice said, “Here _I_ am
first;” and Canaris passed in before him, motioning away a group of
tearful women as he went.

Helwyze lingered, pale and panting, till they were gone; then he looked
and listened, as if turned to stone, for in the heart of the hush lay
Gladys, talking softly to the dead baby on her arm. Not mourning over
it, but yearning with maternal haste to follow and cherish the creature
of her love.

“Only a day old; so young to go away alone. Even in heaven you will want
your mother, darling, and she will come. Sleep, my baby, I will be with
you when you wake.”

A stifled sound of anguish recalled the happy soul, already half-way
home, and Gladys turned her quiet eyes to her husband bending over her.

“Dear, will he come?” she whispered.

“He is here.”

He was; and, standing on either side the bed, the two men seemed
unconscious of each other, intent only upon her. Feebly she drew the
white cover over the little cold thing in her bosom, as if too sacred
for any eyes but hers to see, then lifted up her hand with a beseeching
glance from one haggard face to the other. They understood; each gave
the hand she asked, and, holding them together with the last effort of
failing strength, she said, clear and low,—

“Forgive each other for my sake.”

Neither spoke, having no words, but by a mute gesture answered as she
wished. Something brighter than a smile rested on her face, and, as if
satisfied, she turned again to Canaris, seeming to forget all else in
the tender farewell she gave him.

“Remember, love, remember we shall be waiting for you. The new home will
not be home to us until you come.”

As her detaining touch was lifted, the two hands fell apart, never to
meet again. Canaris knelt down to lay his head beside hers on the
pillow, to catch the last accents of the beloved voice, sweet even now.
Helwyze, forgotten by them both, drew back into the shadow of the deep
red curtains, still studying with an awful curiosity the great mystery
of death, asking, even while his heart grew cold within him,—

“Will the faith she trusted sustain her now?”

It did; for, leaning on the bosom of Infinite Love, like a confiding
child in its father’s arms, without a doubt or fear to mar her peace, a
murmur or lament to make the parting harder, Gladys went to her own
place.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 XVIII.


“For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come. Is this one?” was the
vague feeling, rather than thought, of which Helwyze was dimly
conscious, as he lay in what seemed a grave, so cold, so dead he felt;
so powerless and pent, in what he fancied was his coffin. He remembered
the slow rising of a tide of helplessness which chilled his blood and
benumbed his brain, till the last idea to be distinguished was, “I am
dying: shall I meet Gladys?” then came oblivion, and now, what was this?

Something was alive still—something which strove to see, move, speak,
yet could not, till the mist, which obscured every sense, should clear
away. A murmur was in the air, growing clearer every instant, as it rose
and fell, like the muffled sound of waves upon a distant shore.
Presently he recognized human voices, and the words they uttered,—words
which had no meaning, till, like an electric shock, intelligence
returned, bringing with it a great fear.

Olivia was mourning over him, and he felt her tears upon his face; but
it was not this which stung him to sudden life,—it was another voice,
saying, low, but with a terrible distinctness,—

“There is no hope. He may remain so for some years; but sooner or later
the brain will share the paralysis of the body, and leave our poor
friend in a state I grieve to think of.”

“No!” burst from Helwyze, with an effort which seemed to dispel the
trance which held his faculties. Stir he could not, but speak he did,
and opened wide the eyes which had been closed for hours. With the
unutterable relief of one roused from a nightmare he recognized his own
room, Olivia’s tender face bent over him, and his physician holding a
hand that had no feeling in it.

“Not dead yet;” he muttered, with a feeble sort of exultation, adding,
with as feeble a despair and doubt, “but _she_ is. Did I dream that?”

“Alas, no!” and Olivia wiped away her own tears from the forehead which
began to work with the rush of returning memory and thought.

“What does this numbness mean? Why are you here?” he asked, as his eye
went from one face to the other.

“Dear Jasper, it means that you are ill. Stern found you unconscious in
your chair last night. You are much better now, but it alarmed us, for
we thought you dead,” replied Olivia, knowing that he would have the
truth at any cost.

“I remember thinking it was death, and being glad of it. Why did you
bring me back? I had no wish to come.”

She forgave the ingratitude, and went on chafing the cold hand so
tenderly, that Helwyze reproached no more, but, turning to the
physician, demanded, with a trace of the old imperiousness coming back
into his feeble voice,—

“Is this to be the end of it?”

“I fear so, Mr. Helwyze. You will not suffer any more, let that comfort
you.”

“My body may not, but my mind will suffer horribly. Good heavens, man,
do you call this death in life a comfortable end? How long have I got to
lie here watching my wits go?”

“It is impossible to say.”

“But certain, sooner or later?”

“There is a chance,—your brain has been overworked: it must have rest,”
began the doctor, trying to soften the hard facts, since his patient
would have them.

“Rest! kill me at once, then; annihilation would be far better than such
rest as that. I will not lie here waiting for imbecility,—put an end to
this, or let me!” cried Helwyze, struggling to lift his powerless right
hand; and, finding it impossible, he looked about him with an impotent
desperation which wrung Olivia’s heart, and alarmed the physician,
although he had long foreseen this climax.

Both vainly tried to soothe and console; but after that one despairing
appeal Helwyze turned his face to the wall, and lay so for hours.
Asleep, they hoped, but in reality tasting the first bitterness of the
punishment sent upon him as an expiation for the sin of misusing one of
Heaven’s best gifts. No words could describe the terror such a fate had
for him, since intellect had been his god, and he already felt it
tottering to its fall. On what should he lean, if that were taken? where
see any ray of hope to make the present endurable? where find any
resignation to lighten the gloom of such a future?

Restless mind and lawless will, now imprisoned in a helpless body,
preyed on each other like wild creatures caged, finding it impossible to
escape, and as impossible to submit. Death would not have daunted him,
pain he had learned to endure; but this slow decay of his most precious
possession he could not bear, and suffered a new martyrdom infinitely
sharper than the old.

How time went he never knew; for, although merciful unconsciousness was
denied him, his thoughts, like avenging Furies, drove him from one
bitter memory to another, probing his soul as he had probed others, and
tormenting him with an almost supernatural activity of brain before its
long rest began. Ages seemed to pass, while he took no heed of what went
on about him. People came and went, faces bent over him, hands
ministered to him, and voices whispered in the room. He knew all this,
without the desire to do so, longing only to forget and be forgotten,
with an increasing irritation, which slowly brought him back from that
inner world of wordless pain to the outer one, which must be faced, and
in some fashion endured.

Olivia still sat near him, as if she had not stirred, though it was
morning when last he spoke, and now night had come. The familiar room
was dim and still, every thing already ordered for his comfort, and the
brilliant cousin had transformed herself into a quiet nurse. The
rustling silks were replaced by a soft, gray gown; the ornaments all
gone; even the fine hair was half-hidden by the little kerchief of lace
tied over it. Yet never had Olivia been more beautiful; for now the
haughty queen had changed to a sad woman, wearing for her sole ornaments
constancy and love. Worn and weary she looked, but a sort of sorrowful
content was visible, a jealous tenderness, which plainly told that for
her, at least, there was a drop of honey even in the new affliction,
since it made him more her own than ever.

“Poor soul! she promised to be faithful to the death; and she will
be,—even such a death as this.”

A sigh, that was almost a groan, broke from Helwyze as the thought came,
and Olivia was instantly at his side.

“Are you suffering, Jasper? What can I do for you?” she said, with such
a passionate desire to serve or cheer, that he could not but answer,
gently,—

“I am done with pain: teach me to be patient.”

“Oh, if I could! we must learn that together,” she said, feeling with
him how sorely both would need the meek virtue to sustain the life
before them.

“Where is Felix?” asked Helwyze, after lying for a while, with his eyes
upon the fire, as if they would absorb its light and warmth into their
melancholy depths.

“Mourning for Gladys,” replied Olivia, fearing to touch the dangerous
topic, yet anxious to know how the two men stood toward one another; for
something in the manner of the younger, when the elder was mentioned,
made her suspect some stronger, sadder tie between them than the one she
had already guessed.

“Does he know of this?” and Helwyze struck himself a feeble blow with
the one hand which he could use, now lying on his breast.

“Yes.”

“What does he say of me?”

“Nothing.”

“I must see him.”

“You shall. I asked him if he had no word for you, and he answered, with
a strange expression, ‘When I have buried my dead I will come, for the
last time.’”

“How does he look?” questioned Helwyze, curious to see, even through
another’s eyes, the effect of sorrow upon the man whom he had watched so
long and closely.

“Sadly broken; but he is young and sanguine: he will soon forget, and be
happy again; so do not let a thought of him disturb you, Jasper.”

“It does not: we made our bargain, and held each other to it, till he
chose to break it. Let him bear the consequences, as I do.”

“Alas, they fall on him far less heavily than on you! He has all the
world before him where to choose, while you have nothing left—but me.”

He did not seem to hear her, and fell into a gloomy reverie, which she
dared not break, but sat, patiently beguiling her lonely watch with sad
thoughts of the twilight future they were to share together,—a future
which might have been so beautiful and happy, had true love earlier made
them one.

Another day, another night, then there were sounds about the house which
told Helwyze what was passing, without the need of any question. He
asked none; but lay silent for the most part, as if careless or
unconscious of what went on around him. He missed Olivia for an hour,
and when she returned, traces of tears upon her cheeks told him that she
had been to say farewell to Gladys. He had not spoken that name even to
himself; for now an immeasurable space seemed to lie between him and its
gentle owner. She had gone into a world whither he could not follow her.
A veil, invisible, yet impenetrable, separated them for ever, he
believed, and nothing remained to him but a memory that would not die,—a
memory so bitter-sweet, so made up of remorse and reverence, love and
longing, that it seemed to waken his heart from its long sleep, and
kindle in it a spark of the divine fire, whose flame purified while it
consumed; for even in his darkness and desolation he was not forgotten.

Late that day Canaris came, looking like a man escaped from a great
shipwreck, with nothing left him but his life. Unannounced he entered,
and, with the brevity which in moments of strong feeling is more
expressive than eloquence, he said,—

“I am going.”

“Where?” asked Helwyze, conscious that any semblance of friendship, any
word of sympathy, was impossible between them.

“Out into the world again.”

“What will you do?”

“Any _honest_ work I can find.”

“Let me”—

“No! I will take nothing from you. Poor as I came, I will go,—except the
few relics I possess of her.”

A traitorous tremor in the voice which was stern with repressed emotion
warned Canaris to pause there, while his eye turned to Olivia, as if
reminded of some last debt to her. From his breast he drew a little
paper, unfolded it, and took out what looked like a massive ring of
gold; this he laid before her, saying, with a softened mien and accent,—

“You were very kind,—I have nothing else to offer,—let me give you this,
in memory of Gladys.”

Only a tress of sunny hair; but Olivia received the gift as if it were a
very precious one, thanking him, not only with wet eyes, but friendly
words.

“Dear Felix, for her sake let _me_ help you, if I can. Do not go away so
lonely, purposeless, and poor. The world is hard; you will be
disheartened, and turn desperate, with no one to love and hope and work
for.”

“I must help myself. I am poor; but not purposeless, nor alone.
Disheartened I may be: never desperate again; for I _have_ some one to
love and hope and work for. She is waiting for me somewhere: I must make
myself worthy to follow and find her. I have promised; and, God helping
me, I will keep that promise.”

Very humble, yet hopeful, was the voice; and full of a sad courage was
the young man’s altered face,—for out of it the gladness and the bloom
of youth had gone for ever, leaving the strength of a noble purpose to
confront a life which hereafter should be honest, if not happy.

Helwyze had not the infinite patience to work in marble; the power to
chisel even his own divided nature into harmony, like the sculptor, who,
in the likeness of a suffering saint, hewed his own features out of
granite. He could only work in clay, as caprice inspired or circumstance
suggested; forgetting that life’s stream of mixed and molten metals
would flow over his faulty models, fixing unalterably both beauty and
blemish. He had found the youth plastic as clay, had shaped him as he
would; till, tiring of the task, he had been ready to destroy his work.
But the hand of a greater Master had dropped into the furnace the gold
of an enduring love, to brighten the bronze in which suffering and time
were to cast the statue of the _man_. Helwyze saw this now, and a pang
of something sharper than remorse wrung from him the reluctant words,—

“Take, as my last gift, the fame which has cost you so much. I will
never claim it: to me it is an added affliction, to you it may be a
help. Keep it, I implore you, and give me the pardon _she_ asked of
you.”

But Canaris turned on him with the air of one who cries, “Get thee
behind me!” and answered with enough of the old vehemence to prove that
grief had not yet subdued the passionate spirit which had been his
undoing,—

“It is no longer in your power to tempt me, or in mine to be tempted, by
my bosom sin. Forsythe knows the truth, and the world already wonders. I
will earn a better fame for myself: keep this, and enjoy it, if you can.
Pardon I cannot promise yet; but I give you my pity, ‘for her sake.’”

With that—the bitterest word he could have uttered—Canaris was gone,
leaving Helwyze to writhe under the double burden imposed by one more
just than generous. Olivia durst not speak; and, in the silence, both
listened to the hasty footsteps that passed from room to room, till a
door closed loudly, and they knew that Canaris had set forth upon that
long pilgrimage which was in time to lead him up to Gladys.

Helwyze spoke first, exclaiming, with a dreary laugh,—

“So much for playing Providence! You were right, and I _was_ rash to try
it. Goethe could make his Satan as he liked; but Fate was stronger than
I, and so comes ignominious failure. Margaret dies, and Faust suffers,
but Mephistopheles cannot go with him on his new wanderings. Still, it
holds—it holds even to the last! My end comes too soon; yet it is true.
In loving the angel I lose the soul I had nearly won; the roses turn to
flakes of fire, and the poor devil is left lamenting.”

Olivia thought him wandering, and listened in alarm; for his thoughts
seemed blown to and fro, like leaves in a fitful gust, and she had no
clew to them. Presently, he broke out again, still haunted by the real
tragedy in which he had borne a part; still following Canaris, whose
freedom was like the thought of water to parched Tantalus.

“He will do it! he will do it! When or how, who shall say? but, soon or
late, she will save him, since he believes in such salvation. Would that
I did!”

Perhaps the despairing wish was the seed of a future hope, which might
blossom into belief. Olivia trusted so, and tried to murmur some
comfortable, though vague, assurance of a love and pity greater even
than hers. He did not hear her; for his eyes were fixed, with an
expression of agonized yearning, upon the sky, serene and beautiful, but
infinitely distant, inexorably dumb; and, when he spoke, his words had
in them both his punishment and her own,—

“Life before was Purgatory, now it is Hell; because I loved her, and _I_
have no hope to follow and find her again.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         A WHISPER IN THE DARK.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         A WHISPER IN THE DARK.


As we rolled along, I scanned my companion covertly, and saw much to
interest a girl of seventeen. My uncle was a handsome man, with all the
polish of foreign life fresh upon him; yet it was neither comeliness nor
graceful ease which most attracted me; for even my inexperienced eye
caught glimpses of something stern and sombre below these external
charms, and my long scrutiny showed me the keenest eye, the hardest
mouth, the subtlest smile I ever saw,—a face which in repose wore the
look which comes to those who have led lives of pleasure and learned
their emptiness. He seemed intent on some thought that absorbed him, and
for a time rendered him forgetful of my presence, as he sat with folded
arms, fixed eyes, and restless lips. While I looked, my own mind was
full of deeper thought than it had ever been before; for I was
recalling, word for word, a paragraph in that half-read letter:—

    “At eighteen Sybil is to marry her cousin, the compact having
    been made between my brother and myself in their childhood. My
    son is with me now, and I wish them to be together during the
    next few months, therefore my niece must leave you sooner than I
    at first intended. Oblige me by preparing her for an immediate
    and final separation, but leave all disclosures to me, as I
    prefer the girl to remain ignorant of the matter for the
    present.”

That displeased me. Why was I to remain ignorant of so important an
affair? Then I smiled to myself, remembering that I did know, thanks to
the wilful curiosity that prompted me to steal a peep into the letter
that Madame Bernard had pored over with such an anxious face. I saw only
a single paragraph, for my own name arrested my eye; and, though wild to
read all, I had scarcely time to whisk the paper back into the reticule
the forgetful old soul had left hanging on the arm of her chair. It was
enough, however, to set my girlish brain in a ferment, and keep me
gazing wistfully at my uncle, conscious that my future now lay in his
hands; for I was an orphan and he my guardian, though I had seen him but
seldom since I was confided to madame a six years’ child. Presently my
uncle became cognizant of my steady stare, and returned it with one as
steady for a moment, then said, in a low, smooth tone, that ill accorded
with the satirical smile that touched his lips,—

“I am a dull companion for my little niece. How shall I provide her with
pleasanter amusement than counting my wrinkles or guessing my thoughts?”

I was a frank, fearless creature, quick to feel, speak, and act, so I
answered readily,—

“Tell me about my cousin Guy. Is he as handsome, brave, and clever as
madame says his father was when a boy?”

My uncle laughed a short laugh, touched with scorn, whether for madame,
himself, or me I could not tell, for his countenance was hard to read.

“A girl’s question and artfully put; nevertheless I shall not answer it,
but let you judge for yourself.”

“But, sir, it will amuse me and beguile the way. I feel a little strange
and forlorn at leaving madame, and talking of my new home and friends
will help me to know and love them sooner. Please tell me, for I’ve had
my own way all my life, and can’t bear to be crossed.”

My petulance seemed to amuse him, and I became aware that he was
observing me with a scrutiny as keen as my own had been; but I smilingly
sustained it, for my vanity was pleased by the approbation his eye
betrayed. The evident interest he now took in all I said and did was
sufficient flattery for a young thing, who felt her charms and longed to
try their power.

“I, too, have had my own way all my life; and as the life is double the
length, the will is double the strength of yours, and again I say no.
What next, mademoiselle?”

He was blander than ever as he spoke, but I was piqued, and resolved to
try coaxing, eager to gain my point, lest a too early submission now
should mar my freedom in the future.

“But that is ungallant, uncle, and I still have hopes of a kinder
answer, both because you are too generous to refuse so small a favor to
your ‘little niece,’ and because she can be charmingly wheedlesome when
she likes. Won’t you say yes now, uncle?” and, pleased with the daring
of the thing, I put my arm about his neck, kissed him daintily, and
perched myself upon his knee with most audacious ease.

He regarded me mutely for an instant, then holding me fast deliberately
returned my salute on lips, cheeks, and forehead, with such warmth that
I turned scarlet and struggled to free myself, while he laughed that
mirthless laugh of his till my shame turned to anger, and I imperiously
commanded him to let me go.

“Not yet, young lady. You came here for your own pleasure, but shall
stay for mine, till I tame you as I see you must be tamed. It is a short
process with me, and I possess experience in the work; for Guy, though
by nature as wild as a hawk, has learned to come at my call as meekly as
a dove. Chut! what a little fury it is!”

I was just then; for exasperated at his coolness, and quite beside
myself, I had suddenly stooped and bitten the shapely white hand that
held both my own. I had better have submitted; for slight as the foolish
action was, it had an influence on my after life as many another such
has had. My uncle stopped laughing, his hand tightened its grasp, for a
moment his cold eye glittered and a grim look settled round the mouth,
giving to his whole face a ruthless expression that entirely altered it.
I felt perfectly powerless. All my little arts had failed, and for the
first time I was mastered. Yet only physically; my spirit was rebellious
still. He saw it in the glance that met his own, as I sat erect and
pale, with something more than childish anger. I think it pleased him,
for swiftly as it had come the dark look passed, and quietly, as if we
were the best of friends, he began to relate certain exciting adventures
he had known abroad, lending to the picturesque narration the charm of
that peculiarly melodious voice, which soothed and won me in spite of
myself, holding me intent till I forgot the past; and when he paused I
found that I was leaning confidentially on his shoulder, asking for
more, yet conscious of an instinctive distrust of this man whom I had so
soon learned to fear yet fancy.

As I was recalled to myself, I endeavored to leave him; but he still
detained me, and, with a curious expression, produced a case so quaintly
fashioned that I cried out in admiration, while he selected two
cigarettes, mildly aromatic with the herbs they were composed of, lit
them, offered me one, dropped the window, and leaning back surveyed me
with an air of extreme enjoyment, as I sat meekly puffing and wondering
what prank I should play a part in next. Slowly the narcotic influence
of the herbs diffused itself like a pleasant haze over all my senses;
sleep, the most grateful, fell upon my eyelids, and the last thing I
remember was my uncle’s face dreamily regarding me through a cloud of
fragrant smoke. Twilight wrapped us in its shadows when I woke, with the
night wind blowing on my forehead, the muffled roll of wheels sounding
in my ear, and my cheek pillowed upon my uncle’s arm. He was humming a
French _chanson_ about “Love and Wine, and the Seine to-morrow!” I
listened till I caught the air, and presently joined him, mingling my
girlish treble with his flute-like tenor. He stopped at once, and, in
the coolly courteous tone I had always heard in our few interviews,
asked if I was ready for lights and home.

“Are we there?” I cried; and looking out saw that we were ascending an
avenue which swept up to a pile of buildings that rose tall and dark
against the sky, with here and there a gleam along its gray front.

“Home at last, thank Heaven!” And springing out with the agility of a
young man, my uncle led me over a terrace into a long hall, light and
warm, and odorous with the breath of flowers blossoming here and there
in graceful groups. A civil, middle-aged maid received and took me to my
room, a bijou of a place, which increased my wonder when told that my
uncle had chosen all its decorations and superintended their
arrangement. “He understands women,” I thought, handling the toilet
ornaments, trying luxurious chair and lounge, and ending by slipping my
feet into the scarlet and white Turkish slippers, coquettishly turning
up their toes before the fire. A few moments I gave to examination, and,
having expressed my satisfaction, was asked by my maid if I would be
pleased to dress, as “the master” never allowed dinner to wait for any
one. This recalled to me the fact that I was doubtless to meet my future
husband at that meal, and in a moment every faculty was intent upon
achieving a grand toilette for this first interview. The maid possessed
skill and taste, and I a wardrobe lately embellished with Parisian gifts
from my uncle which I was eager to display in his honor.

When ready, I surveyed myself in the long mirror as I had never done
before, and saw there a little figure, slender, yet stately, in a dress
of foreign fashion, ornamented with lace and carnation ribbons which
enhanced the fairness of neck and arms, while blonde hair, wavy and
golden, was gathered into an antique knot of curls behind, with a
carnation fillet, and below a blooming dark-eyed face, just then radiant
with girlish vanity and eagerness and hope.

“I’m glad I’m pretty!”

“So am I, Sybil.”

I had unconsciously spoken aloud, and the echo came from the doorway
where stood my uncle, carefully dressed, looking comelier and cooler
than ever. The disagreeable smile flitted over his lips as he spoke, and
I started, then stood abashed, till beckoning, he added in his most
courtly manner,—

“You were so absorbed in the contemplation of your charming self, that
Janet answered my tap and took herself away unheard. You are mistress of
my table now: it waits; will you come down?”

With a last touch to that unruly hair of mine, a last, comprehensive
glance and shake, I took the offered arm and rustled down the wide
staircase, feeling that the romance of my life was about to begin. Three
covers were laid, three chairs set, but only two were occupied, for no
Guy appeared. I asked no questions, showed no surprise, but tried to
devour my chagrin with my dinner, and exerted myself to charm my uncle
into the belief that I had forgotten my cousin. It was a failure,
however, for that empty seat had an irresistible fascination for me, and
more than once, as my eye returned from its furtive scrutiny of napkin,
plate, and trio of colored glasses, it met my uncle’s and fell before
his penetrative glance. When I gladly rose to leave him to his wine,—for
he did not ask me to remain,—he also rose, and, as he held the door for
me, he said,—

“You asked me to describe your cousin: you have seen one trait of his
character to-night; does it please you?”

I knew he was as much vexed as I at Guy’s absence, so quoting his own
words I answered saucily,—

“Yes; for I’d rather see the hawk free than coming tamely at your call,
uncle.”

He frowned slightly, as if unused to such liberty of speech, yet bowed
when I swept him a stately little curtsey and sailed away to the
drawing-room, wondering if my uncle was as angry with me as I was with
my cousin. In solitary grandeur I amused myself by strolling through the
suite of handsome rooms henceforth to be my realm, looked at myself in
the long mirrors, as every woman is apt to do when alone and in costume,
danced over the mossy carpets, touched the grand piano, smelt the
flowers, fingered the ornaments on _étagère_ and table, and was just
giving my handkerchief a second drench of some refreshing perfume from a
filigree flask that had captivated me, when the hall door was flung
wide, a quick step went running upstairs, boots tramped overhead,
drawers seemed hastily opened and shut, and a bold, blithe voice broke
out into a hunting song in a tone so like my uncle’s that I
involuntarily flew to the door, crying,—

“Guy is come!”

Fortunately for my dignity, no one heard me, and hurrying back I stood
ready to skim into a chair and assume propriety at a minute’s notice,
conscious, meanwhile, of the new influence which seemed suddenly to gift
the silent house with vitality, and add the one charm it needed,—that of
cheerful companionship. “How will he meet me? and how shall I meet him?”
I thought, looking up at the bright-faced boy, whose portrait looked
back at me with a mirthful light in the painted eyes and a trace of his
father’s disdainful smile in the curves of the firm-set lips. Presently
the quick steps came flying down again, past the door, straight to the
dining-room opposite, and, as I stood listening with a strange flutter
at my heart, I heard an imperious young voice say rapidly,—

“Beg pardon, sir, unavoidably detained. Has she come? Is she bearable?”

“I find her so. Dinner is over, and I can offer you nothing but a glass
of wine.”

My uncle’s voice was frostily polite, making a curious contrast to the
other, so impetuous and frank, as if used to command or win all but one.

“Never mind the dinner! I’m glad to be rid of it; so I’ll drink your
health, father, and then inspect our new ornament.”

“Impertinent boy!” I muttered, yet at the same moment resolved to
deserve his appellation, and immediately grouped myself as effectively
as possible, laughing at my folly as I did so. I possessed a pretty
foot, therefore one little slipper appeared quite naturally below the
last flounce of my dress; a bracelet glittered on my arm as it emerged
from among the lace and carnation knots; that arm supported my head. My
profile was well cut, my eyelashes long, therefore I read with face half
averted from the door. The light showered down, turning my hair to gold;
so I smoothed my curls, retied my snood, and, after a satisfied survey,
composed myself with an absorbed aspect and a quickened pulse to await
the arrival of the gentlemen.

Soon they came. I knew they paused on the threshold, but never stirred
till an irrepressible, “You are right, sir!” escaped the younger. Then I
rose prepared to give him the coldest greeting, yet I did not. I had
almost expected to meet the boyish face and figure of the picture; I
saw, instead, a man comely and tall. A dark moustache half hid the proud
mouth; the vivacious eyes were far kinder, though quite as keen as his
father’s, and the freshness of unspoiled youth lent a charm which the
older man had lost for ever. Guy’s glance of pleased surprise was
flatteringly frank, his smile so cordial, his “Welcome, cousin!” such a
hearty sound, that my coldness melted in a breath, my dignity was all
forgotten, and before I could restrain myself I had offered both hands
with the impulsive exclamation,—

“Cousin Guy, I know I shall be very happy here! Are you glad I have
come?”

“Glad as I am to see the sun after a November fog.”

And, bending his tall head, he kissed my hand in the graceful foreign
fashion he had learned abroad. It pleased me mightily, for it was both
affectionate and respectful. Involuntarily I contrasted it with my
uncle’s manner, and flashed a significant glance at him as I did so. He
understood it, but only nodded with the satirical look I hated, shook
out his paper and began to read. I sat down again, careless of myself
now; and Guy stood on the rug, surveying me with an expression of
surprise that rather nettled my pride.

“He is only a boy, after all; so I need not be daunted by his inches or
his airs. I wonder if he knows I am to be his wife, and likes it.”

The thought sent the color to my forehead, my eyes fell, and despite my
valiant resolution, I sat like any bashful child before my handsome
cousin. Guy laughed a boyish laugh as he sat down on his father’s
footstool, saying, while he warmed his slender brown hands,—

“I beg your pardon, Sybil. (We won’t be formal, will we?) But I haven’t
seen a lady for a month, so I stare like a boor at sight of a silk gown
and high-bred face. Are those people coming, sir?”

“If Sybil likes, ask her.”

“Shall we have a flock of people here to make it gay for you, cousin, or
do you prefer our quiet style better; just riding, driving, lounging,
and enjoying life, each in his own way? Henceforth it is to be as you
command in such matters.”

“Let things go on as they have done, then. I don’t care for society, and
strangers wouldn’t make it gay to me, for I like freedom; so do you, I
think.”

“Ah, don’t I!”

A cloud flitted over his smiling face, and he punched the fire, as if
some vent were necessary for the sudden gust of petulance that knit his
black brows into a frown, and caused his father to tap him on the
shoulder with the bland request, as he rose to leave the room,—

“Bring the portfolios and entertain your cousin; I have letters to
write, and Sybil is too tired to care for music to-night.”

Guy obeyed with a shrug of the shoulder his father touched, but lingered
in the recess till my uncle, having made his apologies to me, had left
the room; then my cousin rejoined me, wearing the same cordial aspect I
first beheld. Some restraint was evidently removed, and his natural self
appeared. A very winsome self it was, courteous, gay, and frank, with an
undertone of deeper feeling than I thought to find. I watched him
covertly, and soon owned to myself that he was all I most admired in the
ideal hero every girl creates in her romantic fancy; for I no longer
looked upon this young man as my cousin, but my lover, and through all
our future intercourse this thought was always uppermost, full of a
charm that never lost its power.

Before the evening ended Guy was kneeling on the rug beside me, our two
heads close together, while he turned the contents of the great
portfolio spread before us, looking each other freely in the face, as I
listened and he described, both breaking into frequent peals of laughter
at some odd adventure or comical mishap in his own travels, suggested by
the pictured scenes before us. Guy was very charming, I my blithest,
sweetest self, and when we parted late, my cousin watched me up the
stairs with still another, “Good-night, Sybil,” as if both sight and
sound were pleasant to him.

“Is that your horse Sultan?” I called from my window next morning, as I
looked down upon my cousin, who was coming up the drive from an early
gallop on the moors.

“Yes, bonny Sybil; come and admire him,” he called back, hat in hand,
and a quick smile rippling over his face.

I went, and, standing on the terrace, caressed the handsome creature,
while Guy said, glancing up at his father’s undrawn curtains,—

“If your saddle had come, we would take a turn before ‘my lord’ is ready
for breakfast. This autumn air is the wine you women need.”

I yearned to go, and when I willed the way soon appeared; so careless of
bonnetless head and cambric gown, I stretched my hands to him, saying
boldly,—

“Play young Lochinvar, Guy; I am little and light; take me up before you
and show me the sea.”

He liked the daring feat, held out his hand, I stepped on his boot toe,
sprang up, and away we went over the wide moor, where the sun shone in a
cloudless heaven, the lark soared singing from the green grass at our
feet, and the September wind blew freshly from the sea. As we paused on
the upland slope, that gave us a free view of the country for miles, Guy
dismounted, and, standing with his arm about the saddle to steady me in
my precarious seat, began to talk.

“Do you like your new home, cousin?”

“More than I can tell you!”

“And my father, Sybil?”

“Both yes and no to that question, Guy; I hardly know him yet.”

“True, but you must not expect to find him as indulgent and fond as many
guardians would be to such as you. It’s not his nature. Yet you can win
his heart by obedience, and soon grow quite at ease with him.”

“Bless you! I’m that already, for I fear no one. Why, I sat on his knee
yesterday and smoked a cigarette of his own offering, though madame
would have fainted if she had seen me; then I slept on his arm an hour,
and he was fatherly kind, though I teased him like a gnat.”

“The deuce he was!” with which energetic expression Guy frowned at the
landscape and harshly checked Sultan’s attempt to browse, while I
wondered what was amiss between father and son, and resolved to
discover; but, finding the conversation at an end, started it afresh, by
asking,—

“Is any of my property in this part of the country, Guy? Do you know I
am as ignorant as a baby about my own affairs; for, as long as every
whim was gratified and my purse full, I left the rest to madame and
uncle, though the first hadn’t a bit of judgment, and the last I
scarcely knew. I never cared to ask questions before, but now I am
intensely curious to know how matters stand.”

“All you see is yours, Sybil,” was the brief answer.

“What, that great house, the lovely gardens, these moors, and the forest
stretching to the sea? I’m glad! I’m glad! But where, then, is your
home, Guy?”

“Nowhere.”

At this I looked so amazed, that his gloom vanished in a laugh, as he
explained, but briefly, as if this subject were no pleasanter than the
first,—

“By your father’s will you were desired to take possession of the old
place at eighteen. You will be that soon; therefore, as your guardian,
my father has prepared things for you, and is to share your home until
you marry.”

“When will that be, I wonder?” and I stole a glance from under my
lashes, wild to discover if Guy knew of the compact and was a willing
party to it. His face was half averted, but over his dark cheek I saw a
deep flush rise, as he answered, stooping to pull a bit of heather,—

“Soon, I hope, or the gentleman sleeping there below will be tempted to
remain a fixture with you on his knee as ‘madame my wife.’ He is not
your own uncle, you know.”

I smiled at the idea, but Guy did not see it; and seized with a whim to
try my skill with the hawk that seemed inclined to peck at its master, I
said demurely,—

“Well, why not? I might be very happy if I learned to love him, as I
should, if he were always in that kindest mood of his. Would you like me
for a little mamma, Guy?”

“No!” short and sharp as a pistol shot.

“Then you must marry and have a home of your own, my son.”

“Don’t, Sybil! I’d rather you didn’t see me in a rage, for I’m not a
pleasant sight, I assure you; and I’m afraid I shall be in one if you go
on. I early lost my mother, but I love her tenderly, because my father
is not much to me, and I know if she had lived I should not be what I
am.”

Bitter was his voice, moody his mien, and all the sunshine gone at once.
I looked down and touched his black hair with a shy caress, feeling both
penitent and pitiful.

“Dear Guy, forgive me if I pained you. I’m a thoughtless creature, but
I’m not malicious, and a word will restrain me if kindly spoken. My home
is always yours, and when my fortune is mine you shall never want, if
you are not too proud to accept help from your own kin. You are a little
proud, aren’t you?”

“As Lucifer, to most people. I think I should not be to you, for you
understand me, Sybil, and with you I hope to grow a better man.”

He turned then, and through the lineaments his father had bequeathed him
I saw a look that must have been his mother’s, for it was womanly,
sweet, and soft, and lent new beauty to the dark eyes, always kind, and
just then very tender. He had checked his words suddenly, like one who
has gone too far, and with that hasty look into my face had bent his own
upon the ground, as if to hide the unwonted feeling that had mastered
him. It lasted but a moment, then his old manner returned, as he said
gayly,—

“There drops your slipper. I’ve been wondering what kept it on. Pretty
thing! They say it is a foot like this that oftenest tramples on men’s
hearts. Are you cruel to your lovers, Sybil?”

“I never had one, for madame guarded me like a dragon, and I led the
life of a nun; but when I do find one I shall try his mettle well before
I give up my liberty.”

“Poets say it is sweet to give up liberty for love, and they ought to
know,” answered Guy, with a sidelong glance.

I liked that little speech, and recollecting the wistful look he had
given me, the significant words that had escaped him, and the variations
of tone and manner constantly succeeding one another, I felt assured
that my cousin was cognizant of the family league, and accepted it, yet,
with the shyness of a young lover, knew not how to woo. This pleased me,
and, quite satisfied with my morning’s work, I mentally resolved to
charm my cousin slowly, and enjoy the romance of a genuine wooing,
without which no woman’s life seems complete,—in her own eyes, at least.
He had gathered me a knot of purple heather, and as he gave it I smiled
my sweetest on him, saying,—

“I commission you to supply me with nosegays, for you have taste, and I
love wild-flowers. I shall wear this at dinner in honor of its giver.
Now take me home; for my moors, though beautiful, are chilly, and I have
no wrapper but this microscopic handkerchief.”

Off went his riding-jacket, and I was half smothered in it. The hat
followed next, and as he sprung up behind I took the reins, and felt a
thrill of delight in sweeping down the slope with that mettlesome
creature tugging at the bit, that strong arm round me, and the happy
hope that the heart I leaned on might yet learn to love me.

The day so began passed pleasantly, spent in roving over house and
grounds with my cousin, setting my possessions in order, and writing to
dear old madame. Twilight found me in my bravest attire, with Guy’s
heather in my hair, listening for his step, and longing to run and meet
him when he came. Punctual to the instant he appeared, and this dinner
was a far different one from that of yesterday, for both father and son
seemed in their gayest and most gallant mood, and I enjoyed the hour
heartily. The world seemed all in tune now, and when I went to the
drawing-room I was moved to play my most stirring marches, sing my
blithest songs, hoping to bring one at least of the gentlemen to join
me. It brought both, and my first glance showed me a curious change in
each. My uncle looked harassed and yet amused, Guy looked sullen and
eyed his father with covert glances.

The morning’s chat flashed into my mind, and I asked myself, “Is Guy
jealous so soon?” It looked a little like it, for he threw himself upon
a couch and lay there silent and morose; while my uncle paced to and
fro, thinking deeply, while apparently listening to the song he bade me
finish. I did so, then followed the whim that now possessed me, for I
wanted to try my power over them both, to see if I could restore that
gentler mood of my uncle’s, and assure myself that Guy cared whether I
was friendliest with him or not.

“Uncle, come and sing with me; I like that voice of yours.”

“Tut, I am too old for that; take this indolent lad instead, his voice
is fresh and young, and will chord well with yours.”

“Do you know that pretty _chanson_ about ‘Love and Wine, and the Seine
to-morrow,’ cousin Guy?” I asked, stealing a sly glance at my uncle.

“Who taught you that?” and Guy eyed me over the top of the couch with an
astonished expression which greatly amused me.

“No one; uncle sang a bit of it in the carriage yesterday. I like the
air, so come and teach me the rest.”

“It is no song for you, Sybil. You choose strange entertainment for a
lady, sir.”

A look of unmistakable contempt was in the son’s eye, of momentary
annoyance in the father’s, yet his voice betrayed none as he answered,
still pacing placidly along the room,—

“I thought she was asleep, and unconsciously began it to beguile a
silent drive. Sing on, Sybil; that Bacchanalian snatch will do you no
harm.”

But I was tired of music now they had come, so I went to him, and,
passing my arm through his, walked beside him, saying with my most
persuasive aspect,—

“Tell me about Paris, uncle; I intend to go there as soon as I’m of age,
if you will let me. Does your guardianship extend beyond that time?”

“Only till you marry.”

“I shall be in no haste, then, for I begin to feel quite homelike and
happy here with you, and shall be content without other society; only
you’ll soon tire of me, and leave me to some dismal governess, while you
and Guy go pleasuring.”

“No fear of that, Sybil; I shall hold you fast till some younger
guardian comes to rob me of my merry ward.”

As he spoke, he took the hand that lay upon his arm into a grasp so
firm, and turned on me a look so keen, that I involuntarily dropped my
eyes lest he should read my secret there. Eager to turn the
conversation, I asked, pointing to a little miniature hanging underneath
the portrait of his son, before which he had paused,—

“Was that Guy’s mother, sir?”

“No, your own.”

I looked again, and saw a face delicate yet spirited, with dark eyes, a
passionate mouth, and a head crowned with hair as plenteous and golden
as my own; but the whole seemed dimmed by age, the ivory was stained,
the glass cracked, and a faded ribbon fastened it. My eyes filled as I
looked, and a strong desire seized me to know what had defaced this
little picture of the mother whom I never knew.

“Tell me about her, uncle; I know so little, and often long for her so
much. Am I like her, sir?”

Why did my uncle avert his eyes as he answered,—

“You are a youthful image of her, Sybil.”

“Go on please, tell me more; tell me why this is so stained and worn;
you know all, and surely I am old enough now to hear any history of pain
and loss.”

Something caused my uncle to knit his brows, but his bland voice never
varied a tone as he placed the picture in my hand and gave me this brief
explanation:—

“Just before your birth your father was obliged to cross the Channel, to
receive the last wishes of a dying friend; there was an accident; the
vessel foundered, and many lives were lost. He escaped, but by some
mistake his name appeared in the list of missing passengers; your mother
saw it, the shock destroyed her, and when your father returned he found
only a motherless little daughter to welcome him. This miniature, which
he always carried with him, was saved with his papers at the last
moment; but though the sea-water ruined it he would never have it copied
or retouched, and gave it to me when he died in memory of the woman I
had loved for his sake. It is yours now, my child; keep it, and never
feel that you are fatherless or motherless while I remain.”

Kind as was both act and speech, neither touched me, for something
seemed wanting. I felt, yet could not define it, for then I believed in
the sincerity of all I met.

“Where was she buried, uncle? It may be foolish, but I should like to
see my mother’s grave.”

“You shall some day, Sybil,” and a curious change came over my uncle’s
face as he averted it.

“I have made him melancholy, talking of Guy’s mother and my own; now
I’ll make him gay again if possible, and pique that negligent boy,” I
thought, and drew my uncle to a lounging-chair, established myself on
the arm thereof, and kept him laughing with my merriest gossip, both of
us apparently unconscious of the long dark figure stretched just
opposite, feigning sleep, but watching us through half-closed lids, and
never stirring except to bow silently to my careless “Good-night.”

As I reached the stairhead, I remembered that my letter to madame, full
of the frankest criticisms upon people and things, was lying unsealed on
the table in the little room my uncle had set apart for my boudoir;
fearing servants’ eyes and tongues, I slipped down again to get it. The
room adjoined the parlors, and just then was lit only by a ray from the
hall lamp. I had secured the letter, and was turning to retreat, when I
heard Guy say petulantly, as if thwarted yet submissive,—

“I _am_ civil when you leave me alone; I _do_ agree to marry her, but I
won’t be hurried or go a-wooing except in my own way. You know I never
liked the bargain, for it’s nothing else; yet I can reconcile myself to
being sold, if it relieves you and gives us both a home. But, father,
mind this, if you tie me to that girl’s sash too tightly I shall break
away entirely, and then where are we?”

“I should be in prison and you a houseless vagabond. Trust me, my boy,
and take the good fortune which I secured for you in your cradle. Look
in pretty Sybil’s face, and resignation will grow easy; but remember
time presses, that this is our forlorn hope, and for God’s sake be
cautious, for she is a headstrong creature, and may refuse to fulfil her
part if she learns that the contract is not binding against her will.”

“I think she’ll not refuse, sir; she likes me already. I see it in her
eyes; she has never had a lover, she says, and according to your account
a girl’s first sweetheart is apt to fare the best. Besides, she likes
the place, for I told her it was hers, as you bade me, and she said she
could be very happy here, if my father was always kind.”

“She said that, did she? little hypocrite! For your father, read
yourself, and tell me what else she babbled about in that early
_tête-à-tête_ of yours.”

“You are as curious as a woman, sir, and always make me tell you all I
do and say, yet never tell me any thing in return, except this business,
which I hate, because my liberty is the price, and my poor little cousin
is kept in the dark. I’ll tell her all, before I marry her, father.”

“As you please, hot-head. I am waiting for an account of the first love
passage, so leave blushing to Sybil and begin.”

I knew what was coming and stayed no longer, but caught one glimpse of
the pair, Guy in his favorite place, erect upon the rug, half-laughing,
half-frowning as he delayed to speak, my uncle serenely smoking on the
couch; then I sped away to my own room, thinking, as I sat down in a
towering passion,—

“So he does know of the baby betrothal and hates it, yet submits to
please his father, who covets my fortune,—mercenary creatures! I can
annul the contract, can I? I’m glad to know that, for it makes me
mistress of them both. I like you already, do I? and you see it in my
eyes. Coxcomb! I’ll be the thornier for that. Yet I do like him; I do
wish he cared for me, I’m so lonely in the world, and he can be so
kind.”

So I cried a little, brushed my hair a good deal, and went to bed,
resolving to learn all I could when, where, and how I pleased, to render
myself as charming and valuable as possible, to make Guy love me in
spite of himself, and then say yes or no, as my heart prompted me.

That day was a sample of those that followed, for my cousin was by turns
attracted or repelled by the capricious moods that ruled me. Though
conscious of a secret distrust of my uncle, I could not resist the
fascination of his manner when he chose to exert its influence over me;
this made my little plot easier of execution, for jealousy seemed the
most effectual means to bring my wayward cousin to subjection. Full of
this fancy, I seemed to tire of his society, grew thorny as a briar rose
to him, affectionate as a daughter to my uncle, who surveyed us both
with that inscrutable glance of his, and slowly yielded to my dominion
as if he had divined my purpose and desired to aid it. Guy turned cold
and gloomy, yet still lingered near me as if ready for a relenting look
or word. I liked that, and took a wanton pleasure in prolonging the
humiliation of the warm heart I had learned to love, yet not to value as
I ought, until it was too late.

One dull November evening as I went wandering up and down the hall,
pretending to enjoy the flowers, yet in reality waiting for Guy, who had
left me alone all day, my uncle came from his room, where he had sat for
many hours with the harassed and anxious look he always wore when
certain foreign letters came.

“Sybil, I have something to show and tell you,” he said, as I garnished
his button-hole with a spray of heliotrope, meant for the laggard, who
would understand its significance, I hoped. Leading me to the
drawing-room, my uncle put a paper into my hands, with the request,—

“This is a copy of your father’s will; oblige me by reading it.”

He stood watching my face as I read, no doubt wondering at my composure
while I waded through the dry details of the will, curbing my impatience
to reach the one important passage. There it was, but no word concerning
my power to dissolve the engagement if I pleased; and, as I realized the
fact, a sudden bewilderment and sense of helplessness came over me, for
the strange law terms seemed to make inexorable the paternal decree
which I had not seen before. I forgot my studied calmness, and asked
several questions eagerly.

“Uncle, did my father really command that I should marry Guy, whether we
loved each other or not?”

“You see what he there set down as his desire; and I have taken measures
that you _should_ love one another, knowing that few cousins, young,
comely, and congenial, could live three months together without finding
themselves ready to mate for their own sakes, if not for the sake of the
dead and living fathers to whom they owe obedience.”

“You said I need not, if I didn’t choose; why is it not here?”

“I said that? Never, Sybil!” and I met a look of such entire surprise
and incredulity it staggered my belief in my own senses, yet also roused
my spirit, and, careless of consequences, I spoke out at once,—

“I heard you say it myself the night after I came, when you told Guy to
be cautious, because I could refuse to fulfil the engagement, if I knew
that it was not binding against my will.”

This discovery evidently destroyed some plan, and for a moment threw him
off his guard; for, crumpling the paper in his hand, he sternly
demanded,—

“You turned eavesdropper early; how often since?”

“Never, uncle; I did not mean it then, but, going for a letter in the
dark, I heard your voices, and listened for an instant. It was
dishonorable, but irresistible; and, if you force Guy’s confidence, why
should not I steal yours? All is fair in war, sir, and I forgive as I
hope to be forgiven.”

“You have a quick wit and a reticence I did not expect to find under
that frank manner. So you have known your future destiny all these
months, then, and have a purpose in your treatment of your cousin and
myself?”

“Yes, uncle.”

“May I ask what?”

I was ashamed to tell; and, in the little pause before my answer came,
my pique at Guy’s desertion was augmented by anger at my uncle’s denial
of his own words the ungenerous hopes he cherished, and a strong desire
to perplex and thwart him took possession of me, for I saw his anxiety
concerning the success of this interview, though he endeavored to
repress and conceal it. Assuming my coldest mien, I said,—

“No, sir, I think not; only I can assure you that my little plot has
succeeded better than your own.”

“But you intend to obey your father’s wish, I hope, and fulfil your part
of the compact, Sybil?”

“Why should I? It is not binding, you know, and I’m too young to lose my
liberty just yet; besides, such compacts are unjust, unwise. What right
had my father to mate me in my cradle? how did he know what I should
become, or Guy? how could he tell that I should not love some one else
better? No! I’ll not be bargained away like a piece of merchandise, but
love and marry when I please!”

At this declaration of independence my uncle’s face darkened ominously,
some new suspicion lurked in his eye, some new anxiety beset him; but
his manner was calm, his voice blander than ever as he asked,—

“Is there then, some one whom you love? Confide in me, my girl.”

“And if there were, what then?”

“All would be changed at once, Sybil. But who is it? Some young lover
left behind at madame’s?”

“No, sir.”

“Who, then? You have led a recluse life here. Guy has no friends who
visit him, and mine are all old, yet you say you love.”

“With all my heart, uncle.”

“Is this affection returned, Sybil?”

“I think so.”

“And it is not Guy?”

I was wicked enough to enjoy the bitter disappointment he could not
conceal at my decided words, for I thought he deserved that momentary
pang; but I could not as decidedly answer that last question, for I
would not lie, neither would I confess just yet; so, with a little
gesture of impatience, I silently turned away, lest he should see the
tell-tale color in my cheeks. My uncle stood an instant in deep thought,
a slow smile crept to his lips, content returned to his mien, and
something like a flash of triumph glittered for a moment in his eye,
then vanished, leaving his countenance earnestly expectant. Much as this
change surprised me, his words did more, for, taking both my hands in
his, he gravely said,—

“Do you know that I am your uncle by adoption and not blood, Sybil?”

“Yes, sir; I heard so, but forgot about it,” and I looked up at him, my
anger quite lost in astonishment.

“Let me tell you, then. Your grandfather was childless for many years,
my mother was an early friend, and when her death left me an orphan, he
took me for his son and heir. But two years from that time your father
was born. I was too young to realize the entire change this might make
in my life. The old man was too just and generous to let me feel it, and
the two lads grew up together like brothers. Both married young, and
when you were born a few years later than my son, your father said to
me, ‘Your boy shall have my girl, and the fortune I have innocently
robbed you of shall make us happy in our children.’ Then the family
league was made, renewed at his death, and now destroyed by his
daughter, unless—Sybil, I am forty-five, you not eighteen, yet you once
said you could be very happy with me, if I were always kind to you. I
can promise that I will be, for I love you. My darling, you reject the
son, will you accept the father?”

If he had struck me, it would scarcely have dismayed me more. I started
up, and snatching away my hands hid my face in them, for after the first
tingle of surprise an almost irresistible desire to laugh came over me,
but I dared not, and gravely, gently he went on,—

“I am a bold man to say this, yet I mean it most sincerely. I never
meant to betray the affection I believed you never could return, and
would only laugh at as a weakness; but your past acts, your present
words, give me courage to confess that I desire to keep my ward mine for
ever. Shall it be so?”

He evidently mistook my surprise for maidenly emotion, and the
suddenness of this unforeseen catastrophe seemed to deprive me of words.
All thought of merriment or ridicule was forgotten in a sense of guilt,
for if he feigned the love he offered it was well done, and I believed
it then. I saw at once the natural impression conveyed by my conduct; my
half confession and the folly of it all oppressed me with a regret and
shame I could not master. My mind was in dire confusion, yet a decided
“No” was rapidly emerging from the chaos, but was not uttered; for just
at this crisis, as I stood with my uncle’s arm about me, my hand again
in his, and his head bent down to catch my answer, Guy swung himself
gayly into the room. A glance seemed to explain all, and in an instant
his face assumed that expression of pale wrath so much more terrible to
witness than the fiercest outbreak; his eye grew fiery, his voice
bitterly sarcastic, as he said,—

“Ah, I see; the play goes on, but the actors change parts. I
congratulate you, sir, on your success, and Sybil on her choice.
Henceforth I am _de trop_, but before I go allow me to offer my wedding
gift. You have taken the bride, let me supply the ring.”

He threw a jewel-box upon the table, adding, in that unnaturally calm
tone that made my heart stand still:

“A little candor would have spared me much pain, Sybil; yet I hope you
will enjoy your bonds as heartily as I shall my escape from them. A
little confidence would have made me your ally, not your rival, father.
I have not your address; therefore I lose, you win. Let it be so. I had
rather be the vagabond this makes me than sell myself, that you may
gamble away that girl’s fortune as you have your own and mine. You need
not ask me to the wedding, I will not come. Oh, Sybil, I so loved, so
trusted you!”

And with that broken exclamation he was gone.

The stormy scene had passed so rapidly, been so strange and sudden,
Guy’s anger so scornful and abrupt, I could not understand it, and felt
like a puppet in the grasp of some power I could not resist; but as my
lover left the room I broke out of the bewilderment that held me,
imploring him to stay and hear me.

It was too late, he was gone, and Sultan’s tramp was already tearing
down the avenue. I listened till the sound died, then my hot temper rose
past control, and womanlike asserted itself in vehement and voluble
speech: I was angry with my uncle, my cousin, and myself, and for
several minutes poured forth a torrent of explanations, reproaches, and
regrets, such as only a passionate girl could utter.

My uncle stood where I had left him when I flew to the door with my vain
cry; he now looked baffled, yet sternly resolved, and as I paused for
breath his only answer was,—

“Sybil, you ask me to bring back that headstrong boy; I cannot; he will
never come. This marriage was distasteful to him, yet he submitted for
my sake, because I have been unfortunate, and we are poor. Let him go,
forget the past, and be to me what I desire, for I loved your father and
will be a faithful guardian to his daughter all my life. Child, it must
be,—come, I implore, I command you.”

He beckoned imperiously as if to awe me, and held up the glittering
betrothal ring as if to tempt me. The tone, the act, the look put me
quite beside myself. I did go to him, did take the ring, but said as
resolutely as himself,—

“Guy rejects me, and I have done with love. Uncle, you would have
deceived me, used me as a means to your own selfish ends. I will accept
neither yourself nor your gifts, for now I despise both you and your
commands;” and, as the most energetic emphasis I could give to my
defiance, I flung the ring, case and all, across the room; it struck the
great mirror, shivered it just in the middle, and sent several loosened
fragments crashing to the floor.

“Great heavens! is the young lady mad?” exclaimed a voice behind us.
Both turned and saw Dr. Karnac, a stealthy, sallow-faced Spaniard, for
whom I had an invincible aversion. He was my uncle’s physician, had been
visiting a sick servant in the upper regions, and my adverse fate sent
him to the door just at that moment with that unfortunate exclamation on
his lips.

“What do you say?”

My uncle wheeled about and eyed the new-comer intently as he repeated
his words. I have no doubt I looked like one demented, for I was
desperately angry, pale and trembling with excitement, and as they
fronted me with a curious expression of alarm on their faces, a sudden
sense of the absurdity of the spectacle came over me; I laughed
hysterically a moment, then broke into a passion of regretful tears,
remembering that Guy was gone. As I sobbed behind my hands, I knew the
gentlemen were whispering together and of me, but I never heeded them,
for as I wept myself calmer a comforting thought occurred to me; Guy
could not have gone far, for Sultan had been out all day, and though
reckless of himself he was not of his horse, which he loved like a human
being; therefore he was doubtless at the house of an humble friend near
by. If I could slip away unseen, I might undo my miserable work, or at
least see him again before he went away into the world, perhaps never to
return. This hope gave me courage for any thing, and dashing away my
tears I took a covert survey. Dr. Karnac and my uncle still stood before
the fire, deep in their low-toned conversation; their backs were toward
me, and, hushing the rustle of my dress, I stole away with noiseless
steps into the hall, seized Guy’s plaid, and, opening the great door
unseen, darted down the avenue.

Not far, however; the wind buffeted me to and fro, the rain blinded me,
the mud clogged my feet and soon robbed me of a slipper; groping for it
in despair, I saw a light flash into the outer darkness; heard voices
calling, and soon the swift tramp of steps behind me. Feeling like a
hunted doe, I ran on, but before I had gained a dozen yards my shoeless
foot struck a sharp stone, and I fell half-stunned upon the wet grass of
the wayside bank. Dr. Karnac reached me first, took me up as if I were a
naughty child, and carried me back through a group of staring servants
to the drawing-room, my uncle following with breathless entreaties that
I would be calm, and a most uncharacteristic display of bustle.

I was horribly ashamed; my head ached with the shock of the fall, my
foot bled, my heart fluttered, and when the doctor put me down the
crisis came, for as my uncle bent over me with the strange question, “My
poor girl, do you know me?” an irresistible impulse impelled me to push
him from me, crying passionately,—

“Yes, I know and hate you; let me go! let me go, or it will be too
late!” then, quite spent with the varying emotions of the last hour, for
the first time in my life I swooned away.

Coming to myself, I found I was in my own room, with my uncle, the
doctor, Janet, and Mrs. Best, the housekeeper, gathered about me, the
latter saying, as she bathed my temples,—

“She’s a sad sight, poor thing, so young, so bonny, and so unfortunate.
Did you ever see her so before, Janet?”

“Bless you, no, ma’am; there was no signs of such a tantrum when I
dressed her for dinner.”

“What do they mean? did they never see any one angry before?” I dimly
wondered, and presently, through the fast disappearing stupor that had
held me, Dr. Karnac’s deep voice came distinctly, saying,—

“If it continues, you are perfectly justified in doing so.”

“Doing what?” I demanded sharply, for the sound both roused and
irritated me, I disliked the man so intensely.

“Nothing, my dear, nothing,” purred Mrs. Best, supporting me as I sat
up, feeling weak and dazed, yet resolved to know what was going on. I
was “a sad sight” indeed; my drenched hair hung about my shoulders, my
dress was streaked with mud, one shoeless foot was red with blood, the
other splashed and stained, and a white, wild-eyed face completed the
ruinous image the opposite mirror showed me. Every thing looked blurred
and strange, and a feverish unrest possessed me, for I was not one to
subside easily after such a mental storm. Leaning on my arm, I scanned
the room and its occupants with all the composure I could collect. The
two women eyed me curiously yet pitifully; Dr. Karnac stood glancing at
me furtively as he listened to my uncle, who spoke rapidly in Spanish as
he showed the little scar upon his hand. That sight did more to restore
me than the cordial just administered, and I rose erect, saying
abruptly,—

“Please, everybody, go away; my head aches, and I want to be alone.”

“Let Janet stay and help you, dear; you are not fit,” began Mrs. Best;
but I peremptorily stopped her.

“No, go yourself, and take her with you; I’m tired of so much stir about
such foolish things as a broken glass and a girl in a pet.”

“You will be good enough to take this quieting draught before I go, Miss
Sybil.”

“I shall do nothing of the sort, for I need only solitude and sleep to
be perfectly well,” and I emptied the glass the doctor offered into the
fire. He shrugged his shoulders with a disagreeable smile, and quietly
began to prepare another draught, saying,—

“You are mistaken, my dear young lady; you need much care, and should
obey, that your uncle may be spared further apprehension and anxiety.”

My patience gave out at this assumption of authority; and I determined
to carry matters with a high hand, for they all stood watching me in a
way which seemed the height of impertinent curiosity.

“He is not my uncle! never has been, and deserves neither respect nor
obedience from me! I am the best judge of my own health, and you are not
bettering it by contradiction and unnecessary fuss. This is my house,
and you will oblige me by leaving it, Dr. Karnac; this is my room, and I
insist on being left in peace immediately.”

I pointed to the door as I spoke; the women hurried out with scared
faces; the doctor bowed and followed, but paused on the threshold, while
my uncle approached me, asking in a tone inaudible to those still
hovering round the door,—

“Do you still persist in your refusal, Sybil?”

“How dare you ask me that again? I tell you I had rather die than marry
you!”

“The Lord be merciful to us! just hear how she’s going on now about
marrying master. Ain’t it awful, Jane?” ejaculated Mrs. Best, bobbing
her head in for a last look.

“Hold your tongue, you impertinent creature!” I called out; and the fat
old soul bundled away in such comical haste I laughed, in spite of
languor and vexation.

My uncle left, me, and I heard him say as he passed the doctor,—

“You see how it is.”

“Nothing uncommon; but that virulence is a bad symptom,” answered the
Spaniard, and closing the door locked it, having dexterously removed the
key from within.

I had never been subjected to restraint of any kind; it made me reckless
at once, for this last indignity was not to be endured.

“Open this instantly!” I commanded, shaking the door. No one answered,
and after a few ineffectual attempts to break the lock I left it, threw
up the window and looked out; the ground was too far off for a leap, but
the trellis where summer-vines had clung was strong and high, a step
would place me on it, a moment’s agility bring me to the terrace below.
I was now in just the state to attempt any rash exploit, for the cordial
had both strengthened and excited me; my foot was bandaged, my clothes
still wet; I could suffer no new damage, and have my own way at small
cost. Out I crept, climbed safely down, and made my way to the lodge as
I had at first intended. But Guy was not there; and, returning, I boldly
went in at the great door, straight to the room where my uncle and the
doctor were still talking.

“I wish the key of my room,” was my brief command. Both started as if I
had been a ghost, and my uncle exclaimed,—

“You here! how in Heaven’s name came you out?”

“By the window. I am no child to be confined for a fit of anger. I will
not submit to it; to-morrow I shall go to madame; till then I will be
mistress in my own house. Give me the key, sir.”

“Shall I?” asked the doctor of my uncle, who nodded with a whispered,—

“Yes, yes; don’t excite her again.”

It was restored, and without another word I went loftily up to my room,
locked myself in, and spent a restless, miserable night. When morning
came, I breakfasted above stairs, and then busied myself packing trunks,
burning papers, and collecting every trifle Guy had ever given me. No
one annoyed me, and I saw only Janet, who had evidently received some
order that kept her silent and respectful, though her face still
betrayed the same curiosity and pitiful interest as the night before.
Lunch was brought up, but I could not eat, and began to feel that the
exposure, the fall, and excitement of the evening had left me weak and
nervous, so I gave up the idea of going to madame till the morrow; and,
as the afternoon waned, tried to sleep, yet could not, for I had sent a
note to several of Guy’s haunts, imploring him to see me; but my
messenger brought word that he was not to be found, and my heart was too
heavy to rest.

When summoned to dinner, I still refused to go down; for I heard Dr.
Karnac’s voice, and would not meet him, so I sent word that I wished the
carriage early the following morning, and to be left alone till then. In
a few minutes, back came Janet, with a glass of wine set forth on a
silver salver, and a card with these words,—

“Forgive, forget, for your father’s sake, and drink with me, ‘Oblivion
to the past.’”

It touched and softened me. I knew my uncle’s pride, and saw in this an
entire relinquishment of the hopes I had so thoughtlessly fostered in
his mind. I was passionate, but not vindictive. He had been kind, I very
wilful. His mistake was natural, my resentment ungenerous. Though my
resolution to go remained unchanged, I was sorry for my part in the
affair; and remembering that through me his son was lost to him, I
accepted his apology, drank his toast, and sent him back a dutiful
“Good-night.”

I was unused to wine. The draught I had taken was powerful with age,
and, though warm and racy to the palate, proved too potent for me. Still
sitting before my fire, I slowly fell into a restless drowse, haunted by
a dim dream that I was seeking Guy in a ship, whose motion gradually
lulled me into perfect unconsciousness.

Waking at length, I was surprised to find myself in bed, with the
shimmer of daylight peeping through the curtains. Recollecting that I
was to leave early, I sprang up, took one step and remained transfixed
with dismay, for the room was not my own! Utterly unfamiliar was every
object on which my eyes fell. The place was small, plainly furnished,
and close, as if long unused. My trunks stood against the wall, my
clothes lay on a chair, and on the bed I had left trailed a fur-lined
cloak I had often seen on my uncle’s shoulders. A moment I stared about
me bewildered, then hurried to the window,—it was grated!

A lawn, sere and sodden, lay without, and a line of sombre firs hid the
landscape beyond the high wall which encompassed the dreary plot. More
and more alarmed, I flew to the door and found it locked. No bell was
visible, no sound audible, no human presence near me, and an ominous
foreboding thrilled cold through nerves and blood, as, for the first
time, I felt the paralyzing touch of fear. Not long, however. My native
courage soon returned, indignation took the place of terror, and
excitement gave me strength. My temples throbbed with a dull pain, my
eyes were heavy, my limbs weighed down by an unwonted lassitude, and my
memory seemed strangely confused; but one thing was clear to me, I must
see somebody, ask questions, demand explanations, and get away to madame
without delay.

With trembling hands I dressed, stopping suddenly, with a cry; for,
lifting my hands to my head, I discovered that my hair, my beautiful,
abundant hair, was gone! There was no mirror in the room, but I could
feel that it had been shorn away close about face and neck. This outrage
was more than I could bear, and the first tears I shed fell for my lost
charm. It was weak, perhaps, but I felt better for it, clearer in mind
and readier to confront whatever lay before me. I knocked and called.
Then, losing patience, shook and screamed; but no one came or answered
me, and, wearied out at last, I sat down and cried again in impotent
despair.

An hour passed, then a step approached, the key turned, and a hard-faced
woman entered with a tray in her hand. I had resolved to be patient, if
possible, and controlled myself to ask quietly, though my eyes kindled,
and my voice trembled with resentment,—

“Where am I, and why am I here against my will?”

“This is your breakfast, miss; you must be sadly hungry,” was the only
reply I got.

“I will never eat till you tell me what I ask.”

“Will you be quiet, and mind me if I do, miss?”

“You have no right to exact obedience from me, but I’ll try.”

“That’s right. Now all I know is that you are twenty miles from the
Moors, and came because you are ill. Do you like sugar in your coffee?”

“When did I come? I don’t remember it.”

“Early this morning; you don’t remember because you were put to sleep
before being fetched, to save trouble.”

“Ah, that wine! Who brought me here?”

“Dr. Karnac, miss.”

“Alone?”

“Yes, miss; you were easier to manage asleep than awake, he said.”

I shook with anger, yet still restrained myself hoping to fathom the
mystery of this nocturnal journey.

“What is your name, please?” I meekly asked.

“You can call me Hannah.”

“Well, Hannah, there is a strange mistake somewhere. I am not ill—you
see I am not—and I wish to go away at once to the friend I was to meet
to-day. Get me a carriage and have my baggage taken out.”

“It can’t be done, miss. We are a mile from town, and have no carriages
here; besides, you couldn’t go if I had a dozen. I have my orders, and
shall obey ’em.”

“But Dr. Karnac has no right to bring or keep me here.”

“Your uncle sent you. The doctor has the care of you, and that is all I
know about it. Now I have kept my promise, do you keep yours, miss, and
eat your breakfast, else I can’t trust you again.”

“But what is the matter with me? How can I be ill and not know or feel
it?” I demanded, more and more bewildered.

“You look it, and that’s enough for them as is wise in such matters.
You’d have had a fever, if it hadn’t been seen to in time.”

“Who cut my hair off?”

“I did; the doctor ordered it.”

“How dared he? I hate that man, and never will obey him.”

“Hush, miss, don’t clench your hands and look in that way, for I shall
have to report every thing you say and do to him, and it won’t be
pleasant to tell that sort of thing.”

The woman was civil, but grim and cool. Her eye was unsympathetic, her
manner business-like, her tone such as one uses to a refractory child,
half-soothing, half-commanding. I conceived a dislike to her at once,
and resolved to escape at all hazards, for my uncle’s inexplicable
movements filled me with alarm. Hannah had left my door open, a quick
glance showed me another door also ajar at the end of a wide hall, a
glimpse of green, and a gate. My plan was desperately simple, and I
executed it without delay. Affecting to eat, I presently asked the woman
for my handkerchief from the bed. She crossed the room to get it. I
darted out, down the passage, along the walk, and tugged vigorously at
the great bolt of the gate, but it was also locked. In despair I flew
into the garden, but a high wall enclosed it on every side; and as I ran
round and round, vainly looking for some outlet, I saw Hannah,
accompanied by a man as gray and grim as herself, coming leisurely
toward me, with no appearance of excitement or displeasure. Back I would
not go; and, inspired with a sudden hope, swung myself into one of the
firs that grew close against the wall. The branches snapped under me,
the slender tree swayed perilously, but up I struggled, till the wide
coping of the wall was gained. There I paused and looked back. The woman
was hurrying through the gate to intercept my descent on the other side,
and close behind me the man, sternly calling me to stop. I looked down;
a stony ditch was below, but I would rather risk my life than tamely
lose my liberty, and with a flying leap tried to reach the bank; failed,
fell heavily among the stones, felt an awful crash, and then came an
utter blank.

For many weeks I lay burning in a fever, fitfully conscious of Dr.
Karnac and the woman’s presence; once I fancied I saw my uncle, but was
never sure, and rose at last a shadow of my former self, feeling
pitifully broken, both mentally and physically. I was in a better room
now, wintry winds howled without, but a generous fire glowed behind the
high closed fender, and books lay on my table.

I saw no one but Hannah, yet could wring no intelligence from her beyond
what she had already told, and no sign of interest reached me from the
outer world. I seemed utterly deserted and forlorn, my spirit was
crushed, my strength gone, my freedom lost, and for a time I succumbed
to despair, letting one day follow another without energy or hope. It is
hard to live with no object to give zest to life, especially for those
still blest with youth, and even in my prison-house I soon found one
quite in keeping with the mystery that surrounded me.

As I sat reading by day or lay awake at night, I became aware that the
room above my own was occupied by some inmate whom I never saw. A
peculiar person it seemed to be; for I heard steps going to and fro,
hour after hour, in a tireless march, that wore upon my nerves, as many
a harsher sound would not have done. I could neither tease nor surprise
Hannah into any explanation of the thing, and day after day I listened
to it, till I longed to cover up my ears and implore the unknown walker
to stop, for Heaven’s sake. Other sounds I heard and fretted over: a low
monotonous murmur, as of some one singing a lullaby; a fitful tapping,
like a cradle rocked on a carpetless floor; and at rare intervals cries
of suffering, sharp but brief, as if forcibly suppressed. These sounds,
combined with the solitude, the confinement, and the books I read, a
collection of ghostly tales and weird fancies, soon wrought my nerves to
a state of terrible irritability, and wore upon my health so visibly
that I was allowed at last to leave my room.

The house was so well guarded that I soon relinquished all hope of
escape, and listlessly amused myself by roaming through the unfurnished
rooms and echoing halls, seldom venturing into Hannah’s domain; for
there her husband sat, surrounded by chemical apparatus, poring over
crucibles and retorts. He never spoke to me, and I dreaded the glance of
his cold eye, for it looked unsoftened by a ray of pity at the little
figure that sometimes paused a moment on his threshold, wan and wasted
as the ghost of departed hope.

The chief interest of these dreary walks centred in the door of the room
above my own, for a great hound lay before it, eying me savagely as he
rejected all advances, and uttering his deep bay if I approached too
near. To me this room possessed an irresistible fascination. I could not
keep away from it by day, I dreamed of it by night, it haunted me
continually, and soon became a sort of monomania, which I condemned, yet
could not control, till at length I found myself pacing to and fro as
those invisible feet paced over head. Hannah came and stopped me, and a
few hours later Dr. Karnac appeared. I was so changed that I feared him
with a deadly fear. He seemed to enjoy it; for in the pride of youth and
beauty I had shown him contempt and defiance at my uncle’s, and he took
an ungenerous satisfaction in annoying me by a display of power. He
never answered my questions or entreaties, regarded me as being without
sense or will, insisted on my trying various mixtures and experiments in
diet, gave me strange books to read, and weekly received Hannah’s report
of all that passed. That day he came, looked at me, said, “Let her
walk,” and went away, smiling that hateful smile of his.

Soon after this I took to walking in my sleep, and more than once woke
to find myself roving lampless through that haunted house in the dead of
night. I concealed these unconscious wanderings for a time, but an
ominous event broke them up at last, and betrayed them to Hannah.

I had followed the steps one day for several hours, walking below as
they walked above; had peopled that mysterious room with every mournful
shape my disordered fancy could conjure up; had woven tragical romances
about it, and brooded over the one subject of interest my unnatural life
possessed with the intensity of a mind upon which its uncanny influence
was telling with perilous rapidity. At midnight I woke to find myself
standing in a streak of moonlight, opposite the door whose threshold I
had never crossed. The April night was warm, a single pane of glass high
up in that closed door was drawn aside, as if for air; and, as I stood
dreamily collecting my sleep-drunken senses, I saw a ghostly hand emerge
and beckon, as if to me. It startled me broad awake, with a faint
exclamation and a shudder from head to foot. A cloud swept over the
moon, and when it passed the hand was gone, but shrill through the
keyhole came a whisper that chilled me to the marrow of my bones, so
terribly distinct and imploring was it.

“Find it! for God’s sake find it before it is too late!”

The hound sprang up with an angry growl; I heard Hannah leave her bed
near by, and, with an inspiration strange as the moment, I paced slowly
on with open eyes and lips apart, as I had seen “Amina” in the happy
days when kind old madame took me to the theatre, whose mimic horrors I
had never thought to equal with such veritable ones. Hannah appeared at
her door with a light, but on I went in a trance of fear; for I was only
kept from dropping in a swoon by the blind longing to fly from that
spectral voice and hand. Past Hannah I went, she following; and, as I
slowly laid myself in bed, I heard her say to her husband, who just then
came up,—

“Sleep-walking, John; it’s getting worse and worse, as the doctor
foretold; she’ll settle down like the other presently, but she must be
locked up at night, else the dog will do her a mischief.”

The man yawned and grumbled; then they went, leaving me to spend hours
of unspeakable suffering, which aged me more than years. What was I to
find? where was I to look? and when would it be too late? These
questions tormented me; for I could find no answers to them, divine no
meaning, see no course to pursue. Why was I here? what motive induced my
uncle to commit such an act? and when should I be liberated? were
equally unanswerable, equally tormenting, and they haunted me like
ghosts. I had no power to exorcise or forget. After that I walked no
more, because I slept no more; sleep seemed scared away, and waking
dreams harassed me with their terrors. Night after night I paced my room
in utter darkness,—for I was allowed no lamp,—night after night I wept
bitter tears wrung from me by anguish, for which I had no name; and
night after night the steps kept time to mine, and the faint lullaby
came down to me as if to soothe and comfort my distress. I felt that my
health was going, my mind growing confused and weak, my thoughts
wandered vaguely, memory began to fail, and idiocy or madness seemed my
inevitable fate; but through it all my heart clung to Guy, yearning for
him with a hunger that would not be appeased.

At rare intervals I was allowed to walk in the neglected garden, where
no flowers bloomed, no birds sang, no companion came to me but surly
John, who followed with his book or pipe, stopping when I stopped,
walking when I walked, keeping a vigilant eye upon me, yet seldom
speaking except to decline answering my questions. These walks did me no
good, for the air was damp and heavy with vapors from the marsh; for the
house stood near a half-dried lake, and hills shut it in on every side.
No fresh winds from upland moor or distant ocean ever blew across the
narrow valley; no human creature visited the place, and nothing but a
vague hope that my birthday might bring some change, some help,
sustained me. It did bring help, but of such an unexpected sort that its
effects remained through all my after-life. My birthday came, and with
it my uncle. I was in my room, walking restlessly,—for the habit was a
confirmed one now,—when the door opened, and Hannah, Dr. Karnac, my
uncle, and a gentleman whom I knew to be his lawyer, entered, and
surveyed me as if I were a spectacle. I saw my uncle start and turn
pale; I had never seen myself since I came, but, if I had not suspected
that I was a melancholy wreck of my former self, I should have known it
then, such sudden pain and pity softened his ruthless countenance for a
single instant. Dr. Karnac’s eye had a magnetic power over me; I had
always felt it, but in my present feeble state I dreaded, yet submitted
to it with a helpless fear that should have touched his heart,—it was on
me then, I could not resist it, and paused fixed and fascinated by that
repellent yet potent glance. Hannah pointed to the carpet worn to shreds
by my weary march, to the walls which I had covered with weird,
grotesque, or tragic figures to while away the heavy hours, lastly to
myself, mute, motionless, and scared, saying, as if in confirmation of
some previous assertion,—

“You see, gentlemen, she is, as I said, quiet, but quite hopeless.”

I thought she was interceding for me; and, breaking from the
bewilderment and fear that held me, I stretched my hands to them, crying
with an imploring cry,—

“Yes, I _am_ quiet! I _am_ hopeless! Oh, have pity on me before this
dreadful life kills me or drives me mad!”

Dr. Karnac came to me at once with a black frown, which I alone could
see; I evaded him, and clung to Hannah, still crying frantically,—for
this seemed my last hope,—

“Uncle, let me go! I will give you all I have, will never ask for Guy,
will be obedient and meek if I may only go to madame and never hear the
feet again, or see the sights that terrify me in this dreadful room.
Take me out! for God’s sake take me out!”

My uncle did not answer me, but covered up his face with a despairing
gesture, and hurried from the room; the lawyer followed, muttering
pitifully, “Poor thing! poor thing!” and Dr. Karnac laughed the first
laugh I had ever heard him utter as he wrenched Hannah from my grasp and
locked me in alone. My one hope died then, and I resolved to kill myself
rather than endure this life another month; for now it grew clear to me
that they believed me mad, and death of the body was far more preferable
than that of the mind. I think I _was_ a little mad just then, but
remember well the sense of peace that came to me as I tore strips from
my clothing, braided them into a cord, hid it beneath my mattress, and
serenely waited for the night. Sitting in the last twilight I thought to
see in this unhappy world, I recollected that I had not heard the feet
all day, and fell to pondering over the unusual omission. But, if the
steps had been silent in that room, voices had not, for I heard a
continuous murmur at one time: the tones of one voice were abrupt and
broken, the other low, yet resonant, and that, I felt assured, belonged
to my uncle. Who was he speaking to? what were they saying? should I
ever know? and even then, with death before me, the intense desire to
possess the secret filled me with its old unrest.

Night came at last; I heard the clock strike one, and, listening to
discover if John still lingered up, I heard through the deep hush a soft
grating in the room above, a stealthy sound that would have escaped ears
less preternaturally alert than mine. Like a flash came the thought,
“Some one is filing bars or picking locks: will the unknown remember me
and let me share her flight?” The fatal noose hung ready, but I no
longer cared to use it, for hope had come to nerve me with the strength
and courage I had lost. Breathlessly I listened; the sound went on,
stopped, a dead silence reigned; then something brushed against my door,
and, with a suddenness that made me tingle from head to foot like an
electric shock, through the keyhole came again that whisper, urgent,
imploring, and mysterious,—

“Find it! for God’s sake find it before it is too late!” then fainter,
as if breath failed, came the broken words, “The dog—a lock of
hair—there is yet time.”

Eagerness rendered me forgetful of the secrecy I should preserve, and I
cried aloud, “What shall I find? where shall I look?” My voice,
sharpened by fear, rang shrilly through the house, Hannah’s quick tread
rushed down the hall, something fell, then loud and long rose a cry that
made my heart stand still, so helpless, so hopeless was its wild lament.
I had betrayed and I could not save or comfort the kind soul who had
lost liberty through me. I was frantic to get out, and beat upon my door
in a paroxysm of impatience, but no one came; and all night long those
awful cries went on above, cries of mortal anguish, as if soul and body
were being torn asunder. Till dawn I listened, pent in that room which
now possessed an added terror; till dawn I called, wept, and prayed,
with mingled pity, fear, and penitence, and till dawn the agony of that
unknown sufferer continued unabated. I heard John hurry to and fro,
heard Hannah issue orders with an accent of human sympathy in her hard
voice; heard Dr. Karnac pass and repass my door, and all the sounds of
confusion and alarm in that once quiet house. With daylight all was
still, a stillness more terrible than the stir; for it fell so suddenly,
remained so utterly unbroken, that there seemed no explanation of it but
the dread word death.

At noon Hannah, a shade paler, but grim as ever, brought me some food,
saying she forgot my breakfast, and when I refused to eat, yet asked no
questions, she bade me go into the garden and not fret myself over last
night’s flurry. I went, and, passing down the corridor, glanced
furtively at the door I never saw without a thrill; but I experienced a
new sensation then, for the hound was gone, the door was open, and, with
an impulse past control, I crept in and looked about me. It was a room
like mine, the carpet worn like mine, the windows barred like mine;
there the resemblance ended, for an empty cradle stood beside the bed,
and on that bed, below a sweeping cover, stark and still a lifeless body
lay. I was inured to fear now, and an unwholesome craving for new
terrors seemed to have grown by what it fed on: an irresistible desire
led me close, nerved me to lift the cover and look below,—a single
glance,—then, with a cry as panic-stricken as that which rent the
silence of the night, I fled away, for the face I saw was a pale image
of my own. Sharpened by suffering, pallid with death, the features were
familiar as those I used to see; the hair, beautiful and blonde as mine
had been, streamed long over the pulseless breast, and on the hand,
still clenched in that last struggle, shone the likeness of a ring I
wore, a ring bequeathed me by my father. An awesome fancy that it was
myself assailed me; I had plotted death, and, with the waywardness of a
shattered mind, I recalled legends of spirits returning to behold the
bodies they had left.

Glad now to seek the garden, I hurried down, but on the threshold of the
great hall-door was arrested by the sharp crack of a pistol; and, as a
little cloud of smoke dispersed, I saw John drop the weapon and approach
the hound, who lay writhing on the bloody grass. Moved by compassion for
the faithful brute whose long vigilance was so cruelly repaid, I went to
him, and, kneeling there, caressed the great head that never yielded to
my touch before. John assumed his watch at once, and leaning against a
tree cleaned the pistol, content that I should amuse myself with the
dying creature, who looked into my face with eyes of almost human pathos
and reproach. The brass collar seemed to choke him as he gasped for
breath, and, leaning nearer to undo it, I saw, half hidden in his own
black hair, a golden lock wound tightly round the collar, and so near
its color as to be unobservable, except upon a close inspection. No
accident could have placed it there; no head but mine in that house wore
hair of that sunny hue,—yes, one other, and my heart gave a sudden leap
as I remembered the shining locks just seen on that still bosom.

“Find it—the dog—the lock of hair,” rung in my ears, and swift as light
came the conviction that the unknown help was found at last. The little
band was woven close, I had no knife, delay was fatal, I bent my head as
if lamenting over the poor beast and bit the knot apart, drew out a
folded paper, hid it in my hand, and rising strolled leisurely back to
my own room, saying I did not care to walk till it was warmer. With
eager eyes I examined my strange treasure-trove; it consisted of two
strips of thinnest paper, without address or signature, one almost
illegible, worn at the edges and stained with the green rust of the
collar; the other fresher, yet more feebly written, both abrupt and
disjointed, but terribly significant to me. This was the first,—

    “I have never seen you, never heard your name, yet I know that
    you are young, that you are suffering, and I try to help you in
    my poor way. I think you are not crazed yet, as I often am; for
    your voice is sane, your plaintive singing not like mine, your
    walking only caught from me, I hope. I sing to lull the baby
    whom I never saw; I walk to lessen the long journey that will
    bring me to the husband I have lost,—stop! I must not think of
    those things or I shall forget. If you are not already mad, you
    will be; I suspect you were sent here to be made so; for the air
    is poison, the solitude is fatal, and Karnac remorseless in his
    mania for prying into the mysteries of human minds. What devil
    sent you I may never know, but I long to warn you. I can devise
    no way but this; the dog comes into my room sometimes, you
    sometimes pause at my door and talk to him; you may find the
    paper I shall hide about his collar. Read, destroy, but obey it.
    I implore you to leave this house before it is too late.”

The other paper was as follows:—

    “I have watched you, tried to tell you where to look, for you
    have not found my warning yet, though I often tie it there and
    hope. You fear the dog, perhaps, and my plot fails; yet I know
    by your altered step and voice that you are fast reaching my
    unhappy state; for I am fitfully mad, and shall be till I die.
    To-day I have seen a familiar face; it seems to have calmed and
    strengthened me, and, though he would not help you, I shall make
    one desperate attempt. I may not find you, so leave my warning
    to the hound, yet hope to breathe a word into your sleepless ear
    that shall send you back into the world the happy thing you
    should be. Child! woman! whatever you are, leave this accursed
    house while you have power to do it.”

That was all; I did not destroy the papers, but I obeyed them, and for a
week watched and waited till the propitious instant came. I saw my
uncle, the doctor, and two others, follow the poor body to its grave
beside the lake, saw all depart but Dr. Karnac, and felt redoubled
hatred and contempt for the men who could repay my girlish slights with
such a horrible revenge. On the seventh day, as I went down for my daily
walk, I saw John and Dr. Karnac so deep in some uncanny experiment that
I passed out unguarded. Hoping to profit by this unexpected chance, I
sprang down the steps, but the next moment dropped half-stunned upon the
grass; for behind me rose a crash, a shriek, a sudden blaze that flashed
up and spread, sending a noisome vapor rolling out with clouds of smoke
and flame. Aghast, I was just gathering myself up, when Hannah fled out
of the house, dragging her husband senseless and bleeding, while her own
face was ashy with affright. She dropped her burden beside me, saying,
with white lips and a vain look for help where help was not,—

“Something they were at has burst, killed the doctor, and fired the
house! Watch John till I get help, and leave him at your peril!” then
flinging open the gate she sped away.

“Now is my time,” I thought, and only waiting till she vanished, I
boldly followed her example, running rapidly along the road in an
opposite direction, careless of bonnetless head and trembling limbs,
intent only upon leaving that prison-house far behind me. For several
hours I hurried along that solitary road; the spring sun shone, birds
sang in the blooming hedges, green nooks invited me to pause and rest,
but I heeded none of them, steadily continuing my flight, till spent and
footsore I was forced to stop a moment by a wayside spring. As I stooped
to drink, I saw my face for the first time in many months, and started
to see how like that dead one it had grown, in all but the eternal peace
which made that beautiful in spite of suffering and age. Standing thus
and wondering if Guy would know me, should we ever meet, the sound of
wheels disturbed me. Believing them to be coming from the place I had
left, I ran desperately down the hill, turned a sharp corner, and before
I could check myself passed a carriage slowly ascending. A face sprang
to the window, a voice cried “Stop!” but on I flew, hoping the traveller
would let me go unpursued. Not so, however; soon I heard fleet steps
following, gaining rapidly, then a hand seized me, a voice rang in my
ears, and with a vain struggle I lay panting in my captor’s hold,
fearing to look up and meet a brutal glance. But the hand that had
seized me tenderly drew me close, the voice that had alarmed cried
joyfully,—

“Sybil, it is Guy! lie still, poor child, you are safe at last.”

Then I knew that my surest refuge was gained, and, too weak for words,
clung to him in an agony of happiness, which brought to his kind eyes
the tears I could not shed.

The carriage returned; Guy took me in, and for a time cared only to
soothe and sustain my worn soul and body with the cordial of his
presence, as we rolled homeward through a blooming world, whose beauty I
had never truly felt before. When the first tumult of emotion had
subsided, I told the story of my captivity and my escape, ending with a
passionate entreaty not to be returned to my uncle’s keeping, for
henceforth there could be neither affection nor respect between us.

“Fear nothing, Sybil; madame is waiting for you at the Moors, and my
father’s unfaithful guardianship has ended with his life.”

Then with averted face and broken voice Guy went on to tell his father’s
purposes, and what had caused this unexpected meeting. The facts were
briefly these: The knowledge that my father had come between him and a
princely fortune had always rankled in my uncle’s heart, chilling the
ambitious hopes he cherished even in his boyhood, and making life an
eager search for pleasure in which to drown his vain regrets. This
secret was suspected by my father, and the household league was formed
as some atonement for the innocent offence. It seemed to soothe my
uncle’s resentful nature, and as years went on he lived freely, assured
that ample means would be his through his son. Luxurious,
self-indulgent, fond of all excitements, and reckless in their pursuit,
he took no thought for the morrow till a few months before his return. A
gay winter in Paris reduced him to those straits of which women know so
little; creditors were oppressive, summer friends failed him, gambling
debts harassed him, his son reproached him, and but one resource
remained, Guy’s speedy marriage with the half-forgotten heiress. The boy
had been educated to regard this fate as a fixed fact, and submitted,
believing the time to be far distant; but the sudden summons came, and
he rebelled against it, preferring liberty to love. My uncle pacified
the claimants by promises to be fulfilled at my expense, and hurried
home to press on the marriage, which now seemed imperative. I was taken
to my future home, approved by my uncle, beloved by my cousin, and, but
for my own folly, might have been a happy wife on that May morning when
I listened to this unveiling of the past. My mother had been melancholy
mad since that unhappy rumor of my father’s death; this affliction had
been well concealed from me, lest the knowledge should prey upon my
excitable nature and perhaps induce a like misfortune. I believed her
dead, yet I had seen her, knew where her solitary grave was made, and
still carried in my bosom the warning she had sent me, prompted by the
unerring instinct of a mother’s heart. In my father’s will a clause was
added just below the one confirming my betrothal, a clause decreeing
that, if it should appear that I inherited my mother’s malady, the
fortune should revert to my cousin, with myself a mournful legacy, to be
cherished by him whether his wife or not. This passage, and that
relating to my freedom of choice, had been omitted in the copy shown me
on the night when my seeming refusal of Guy had induced his father to
believe that I loved him, to make a last attempt to keep the prize by
offering himself, and, when that failed, to harbor a design that changed
my little comedy into the tragical experience I have told.

Dr. Karnac’s exclamation had caused the recollection of that clause
respecting my insanity to flash into my uncle’s mind,—a mind as quick to
conceive as fearless to execute. I unconsciously abetted the stratagem,
and Dr. Karnac was an unscrupulous ally, for love of gain was as strong
as love of science; both were amply gratified, and I, poor victim, was
given up to be experimented upon, till by subtle means I was driven to
the insanity which would give my uncle full control of my fortune and my
fate. How the black plot prospered has been told; but retribution
speedily overtook them both, for Dr. Karnac paid his penalty by the
sudden death that left his ashes among the blackened ruins of that house
of horrors, and my uncle had preceded him. For before the change of
heirs could be effected my mother died, and the hours spent in that
unhealthful spot insinuated the subtle poison of the marsh into his
blood; years of pleasure left little vigor to withstand the fever, and a
week of suffering ended a life of generous impulses perverted, fine
endowments wasted, and opportunities for ever lost. When death drew
near, he sent for Guy (who, through the hard discipline of poverty and
honest labor, was becoming a manlier man), confessed all, and implored
him to save me before it was too late. He did, and when all was told,
when each saw the other by the light of this strange and sad
experience,—Guy poor again, I free, the old bond still existing, the
barrier of misunderstanding gone,—it was easy to see our way, easy to
submit, to forgive, forget, and begin anew the life these clouds had
darkened for a time.

Home received me, kind madame welcomed me, Guy married me, and I was
happy; but over all these years, serenely prosperous, still hangs for me
the shadow of the past, still rises that dead image of my mother, still
echoes that spectral whisper in the dark.





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