Stanton called Mr. Mayhew aside and the two gentleman spoke very frankly together.
"Ida seems even more concerned about you than herself," said Stanton in conclusion, "and it would kill her, as she now feels, if you should give way to your old weakness again. She fears that she won't be able to sustain and cheer you as she intended, but I told her that we would both stand by her and see her through her trouble."
"I understand you, Ik," said Mr. Mayhew, quietly. "From my heart I thank you for your kindness to Ida. But you don't understand me. I had a deeper thirst than that for brandy, and when my child gave me her love, my real thirst was quenched, and the other is gone."
"That's noble; we'll pull through yet!" Stanton resumed, heartily. "Ida and I got our supper at a village inn—at least, we went through the motions—for I was bound no one should have a chance to stare at her to-night."
"No matter," said her father, decisively. "I have had prepared as nice a supper as Mr. Burleigh could furnish, and I shall take it to her room. She shall see that she is not forgotten."
Ida tried to eat a little to please him, but she soon came and sat beside him on her sofa, saying, as she buried her face against his shoulder, "Father, I shall have to lean very hard on you now."
"I won't fail you, Ida," was the gentle and simple reply, but they understood each other without further words. With unspoken sympathy and tenderness he tried to fill the place her mother could not, for if Mrs. Mayhew had gained any knowledge of Ida's feelings, she would have had a great deal to say on the subject with the best and kindest intentions. With heavy touch she would try to examine and heal the wound twenty times a day.
Mr. Mayhew was right when he said the Van Bergs were a proud race, and this trait had found its culmination, perhaps, in the hero of this tale. He was justly proud of his old and unstained name; he was proud of those who bore it with him, and he honored his father and mother, not in obedience to a command, but because every one honored them; and if his sister was a little cold and stately, she embodied his ideas of refinement and cultivation; he was proud of his social position, of his talent—for he knew he had that much, at least—and of the recognition he had already won in the republic of art. But chief of all had he been proud of his unstained manhood, of the honor, which he believed had been kept unsullied until this miserable day. But now, as he strode away in the moonlight, he found himself confronting certain facts which he felt he could never explain to any one's satisfaction, not even his own. He had openly professed to love a poor and orphaned girl, and had pledged himself to win her if he could—to be her friend till he could become far more. Even granting that she still looked on him merely as a friend, that did not release him. It was while possessing the distinct knowledge that she cherished no warmer feeling that he had made the pledge, and though she might not be able or willing to-day or to-morrow, or for years to come, to give up a past love for his sake, his promise required that he should patiently woo and wait till she could bury the past with her old lover, and receive, at his hands, the future that he was in honor bound to keep within her reach. Of course, if, after the lapse of years, she assured him she could not and would not accept of his hand in marriage, he would be free, but he had scarcely waited weeks before giving his love to another. For aught he knew, the hope of happier days, which he had urged upon her, might be already stealing into her heart.
It gave him but little comfort now to recognize the fact that he had never loved Jennie Burton—that he had never known what the word meant until swept away by the irresistible tide of a passion, the power of which already appalled him. To say that he did not feel like keeping his promise now, or that his feelings had changed, he knew would be regarded as an excuse beneath contempt, and a week since he himself would have pronounced the most merciless judgment against a man in his present position.
Before the vigil of that night was over, he decided that he could not meet either Ida Mayhew or Jennie Burton again. He believed that Ida Mayhew understood him only too well now, and that she thoroughly despised him. Indeed, from her manner of passing him, he doubted whether she willingly would speak to him again, for her veil had prevented him from seeing the pallor and traces of grief which she was so anxious to hide. In his morbidly sensitive state, it seemed a deliberate but just withdrawal of even her acquaintance. He felt that the brief dream of Ida Mayhew was over forever, and that she would indeed keep the priceless kingdom of her heart from him above all others. He believed that now, after her conversation with Stanton, she clearly saw that the absurdly ardent friendship he had urged upon her was only the incipient stage of a new passion in a fickle wretch who had dared to trifle with a girl like Jennie Burton—a maiden that, of all others in the world, a man of honor would shield.
As for Miss Burton herself, now that he realized his situation, he felt that he could never look her in the face again. To try to resume his old relations seemed to be impossible. He never had and never could say to her a word that he knew was insincere. Besides, he was sure that such an effort would be futile, for she would detect his hollowness at once, and he feared a glance of scorn from her blue eyes more than the lightning of heaven. He resolved to leave the Lake House on Monday, and from New York write to Miss Burton the unvarnished truth, assuring her that he knew himself to be unworthy even to speak to her again. Then, as soon as he could complete his preparations, he would go abroad and give himself wholly to his art.
Having come to these conclusions, he stole by a side entrance like a guilty shadow to his room and tried to obtain such rest as is possible to those who are in the hell of mental torment. After an early breakfast the following morning, he started for the mountains, and no wild beast that ever roamed them would have torn him more pitilessly than did his own outraged sense of honor and manhood. He returned late in the evening, weary and faint, and with the furtiveness of an outlaw, again reached his room without meeting those whom he so wished to avoid. After the heavy, unrefreshing sleep of utter exhaustion he once more left the house early, with his sketch-book in hand to disguise his purpose, for it was his intention to visit the old garden before he finally left the scenes to which he had been led by following a mere freak of fancy. He learned from one of Mr. Eltinge's workman that the old gentleman would be absent from home the entire day, and thus feeling secure from interruption, he entered the quite, shady place in which had begun the symphony which was now ending in such harsh discord. Seeing that he was alone he threw himself into the rustic seat, and burying his face in his hands, soon became unconscious of the lapse of time in his painful revery.
Chapter LII. An Illumined Face.
Ida's expression and manner when she came down to breakfast on Sabbath morning, reminded Miss Burton of the time when the poor girl believed that the man she loved, both despised and misjudged her. And yet there was a vital difference. Then she was icy and defiant; now, with all and more than the old sadness, there was an aspect of humility and gentleness which had never been seen in former times, but the woman who should have been so glad to cheer her and remove all misunderstandings found that she was absolutely unapproachable except by a sort of social violence of which Jennie Burton was not capable. Ida's effort—which was but partially successful—to be brave and even cheerful for her father's sake, caused Mr. Mayhew more than once to go away by himself in order to hide his feelings. Mrs. Mayhew became more and more mystified and uncomfortable. She had enjoyed, in her cold-blooded way, a tranquil, gossipy week during her daughter's and husband's absence, but now she felt as if some kind of a domestic convulsion might occur any moment.
"I don't see why people have to make such a fuss over life," she complained. "If they would only do what was stylish, proper and religious they wouldn't have any trouble," and the strong and not wholly repressed feeling of Ida and her father, of which she was uncomfortably conscious, seemed to her absurd and uncalled for. Like the majority of matter-of-fact people, she had no patience or charity for emotion or deep regret. "Do the proper thing under the circumstances and let that end the matter," was one of her favorite sayings.
Stanton learned from Mr. Burleigh that Van Berg had gone on a mountain tramp, and, when he told Ida, hope whispered to her, "If he loved Jennie Burton or felt that he could return to her side, he would not do that after his long absence."
But when he did not return to supper she began to droop and become pale like a flower growing in too dense a shade. She was glad when the interminable day came to an end and she could shut herself away from every one, for there are wounds which the heart would hide even from the eyes of love and sympathy. It had been arranged during the day that Mr. Mayhew should find another place at which to spend his vacation, and that as early in the week as possible Stanton should take his wife and daughter thither.
When at last poor Ida slept she dreamt that she was sailing on a beautiful yacht with silver canvas and crimson flags—that Van Berg stood at her side pointing to a lovely island which they were rapidly approaching. Then a sudden gust of wind swept her overboard and she was sinking, sinking till the waters became so cold and dark that she awoke with a cry of terror. "Oh," she sobbed, "my dream is true! my dream is true!"
Mr. Mayhew returned to the city in the morning, leaving his daughter very reluctantly, and Ida, as early as possible, set out again in the low phaeton to visit Mr. Eltinge, for never before had she felt a greater need of his counsel and help. Tears came into her eyes when informed of his absence. "Everything is against me," she murmured; but she decided to spend some time in the garden before she returned. She had almost reached the rustic seat when a turn in the walk revealed that it was occupied. Her first impulse was to retreat hastily, but observing that Van Berg had not heard her light step, she hesitated. Then, his attitude of utter dejection so won her sympathy that she could not leave him without speaking, for she remembered how sorely in need she once had been of a reassuring word. Moreover, her heart said, "Speak to him;" hope cried, "Stay;" and her temptation to win him if possible, right or wrong, sprang up with tenfold power and whispered: "The man whom Jennie Burton welcomed so cordially Saturday evening would not wear this aspect if he had the power to return readily to her side again." Still she hesitated and found it almost as hard to obtain words or courage now as when she saw him pulling apart the worm-eaten rosebud. At last she faltered:
"Mr. Van Berg, are you ill?"
He started to his feet with a dazed look and passed his hand across his brow—the same gesture she so well remembered seeing him make at the close of the happy evening he had spent at her home. As he realized that the maiden before him was flesh and blood, and not a creation of his morbid fancy, the hot blood rushed swiftly into his face, and his eyes fell before her.
"Yes, Miss Mayhew, I am," he said, briefly.
"I am very sorry. Can I not do anything for you?" she asked, kindly.
He looked up at her in strong surprise, and was still more perplexed by the sympathetic expression of her face, but he only said, "I regret to say you cannot."
"Mr. Van Berg," said Ida, in tones full of distress, "your words and appearance pain me exceedingly. You look as if you had been ill a month. What has happened?" His aspect might trouble one less interested in him than herself, for his eyes were blood-shot, and he had become so haggard that she could scarcely realize that he was the man who but four days previous had compared his hearty merriment with the "laughter of the gods."
"Miss Mayhew," he said, bitterly and slowly, too, as if he were carefully choosing his words, "you had a presentiment last Saturday that some evil was about to happen. As far as I am concerned the worst has happened. I have lost my self-respect. I have no right to stand here in your presence. I have no right to be in this place even. I once tossed away a little flower that had been sadly marred, through no fault of its own, and as I did so I said in my pride and self-complacency that its imperfection justified my act. You understood me too well, and my accursed Phariseeism wounded your very heart. You afterwards generously forgave my offence and a worse one, but God is just and I am now punished in the severest possible way. I perceive now that you do not understand me, or you could not look and speak so kindly. I thought you had learned me better, for you spoke words on the boat that pierced my very soul, revealing me to myself, and later you passed me without a glance. You were right in both instances. You are wrong now, and i shall not take advantage of your present ignorance, which circumstances will soon remove. I repeat it, Miss Mayhew, I have no right to be here and speaking to you, and yet"—he made a passionate and despairing gesture, and was about to turn hastily away, when Ida said, earnestly, with her eyes fixed on his face, as was her instinctive custom when she sought to learn more from the expression of the speaker than from his words:
"Mr. Van Berg, before we part, answer me one question. Have you deliberately and selfishly intended to do wrong, or to wrong any one?"
"No," he promptly replied meeting, her searching look unhesitatingly. Then, with an impatient gesture, he added: "But no one will ever believe it."
"I believe it," she said with a reassuring smile.
"You? You of all others? But you are talking at random, Miss Mayhew. When you learn the truth you will look and speak very differently. And you shall learn it now. You once told me of a wicked and desperate purpose to which you were driven by the wrong of others. Your sin seems to me a deed of light compared with the act I have been led to commit, under the guidance of my proud reason, my superior judgement, my cool, well-balanced nature—infernally cool it was, indeed! Pardon me, but I am beside myself with rage and self-loathing. True, I have not been intentionally false, but there are circumstances in which folly, weakness, and stupid blundering are nearly as bad, and the results quite as bad. What can you say of the man who pays open suit and makes a distinct offer and pledge to a lady, and the retreats from that suit and breaks that pledge, and through no fault whatever in the lady herself? What can you say of that man when the lady is a poor and orphaned girl, whom any one with a spark of honor would shield with his life, but that he is a base, fickle wretch, who deserves the contempt of all good men and women, and that he ought to be—as he shall be—a vagabond on the face of the earth?"
Ida had buried her face in her hands as she learned how thoroughly Van Berg had committed himself to Miss Burton, and the artist concluded, abruptly: "One thing is certain, he has no right to be here. I shall not wait and see your look of scorn, or—worse—of pity, for I could not endure it," and he snatched up his sketch-book and was about to hasten from the place, when Ida sprang forward and said passionately:
"Wait. This is all wrong. Answer me this—when you discovered the awful crime, which in heart I had already committed, how did you treat me?"
"Your purpose was wicked, but not base."
"You have not intended to be either base or wicked," she began.
"Hush!" he interrupted sternly, "you shall not palliate my weakness by smooth words, and to a man, weakness and stupidity, in some circumstances, are more contemptible than crime. Oh, how I envy Stanton! His course has been straightforward, noble, regal—I have acted like one of the 'canaille.'"
"You deeply regret then, that your feelings have so changed towards Miss Burton?" said Ida, with her eyes again fastened upon his face.
"I do not think my feelings have changed towards her," he replied; "she is admirable, perfect, and I honor her from the depths of my heart. Don't you see? I mistook my deep respect, sympathy, and admiration for something more, and I smiled complacently in my superior way and flattered myself that it was in this eminently well-bred and rational manner that Harold Van Berg would pay his addresses to a lady, and that Stanton's absorbing passion was only the result of ungoverned, unbalanced nature—accursed prig that I was! While in this very complacent and superior condition of mind I committed myself to a course that I cannot carry out, and yet my failure to do so slays my honor and self-respect. Now, I have been as explicit with you as you were with me, and with what you have seen of yourself, you know the whole miserable truth. By a strange fate we who only met a few months since have come to share a common, very sad knowledge. The memory of your own past, and I suppose, your Christian faith also, have made you very merciful and generous, but I shall tax these qualities no further."
"What will you do, Mr. Van Berg?" Ida asked in sudden dread.
"I shall never look Miss Burton in the face again, and after I have written to her simply and briefly what I have told you, her regret will be small indeed. Good-by, Miss Mayhew. If I stay any longer I may speak words to you that would be insults, coming from me."
"Stay," she said, earnestly, "I have something very important to say to you."
He hesitated and looked at her in strong surprise.
"Give me a few minutes to think," she pleaded, and he saw, from the quick rise and fall of her bosom and the nervous clasp of her hands, that she was deeply agitated. She turned from him and looked wistfully at the young tree on which she had inscribed her name the day she had promised Mr. Eltinge to receive all heavenly influences and guidance. She soon lifted her eyes above the tree and her lips moved in earnest prayer as ever came from a human heart. She was facing the sorest temptation of her life, for she had only to be silent now, she believed, and the success of her efforts to win him from Jennie Burton would be complete. If left to himself in this wild, distracted mood he would indeed break every tie that bound him to her rival; but after time had blunted his poignant self-condemnation he would inevitably come back to her. The conscience whispered: "Who forgave you here? What did you promise here? What does that tree mean with its branches reaching out towards heaven? What would you think of Jennie Burton were she trying to win him from you?"
"O Friend of the weak! be though my strength in this moment of desperate need," she sighed.
Van Berg watched her with increasing wonder, and his heart beat thick and fast as she at last turned to him with an expression such as he never had seen before on a human face. Was it the autumn sunlight that illumined her features? He learned eventually that it was the spiritual radiance of the noblest self-sacrifice of which a woman is capable.
"Mr. Van Berg," she said, in tones that were quiet and firm, "please take Mr. Eltinge's seat, for I wish to speak to you as a friend."
He obeyed mechanically, without removing his eyes from her face.
"I once took counsel of passion and despair," she resumed, "and you know what might have resulted, but on this spot God forgave me and I promised to try to do right. With shame I confess I have not fully kept that promise, but I shall try to do so hereafter, be the consequences what they may. Pardon me for speaking so plainly, but you are now taking counsel of passion and turning your back on duty. While almost insane from self-reproach and wounded pride you are taking steps that may blast your own life and the lives of others. To my mind there is an infinite distance between the error you naturally fell into in view of Miss Burton's loveliness of character and any base intent, but even if I should share in your harsh judgement—which I never can—I would still say that you cannot help the past, and you are now bound by all that's sacred to ask only what is right, and to do that at every cost to yourself. You are pledged to Miss Burton, and you must make good your pledge."
"What! I go to that snow-white maiden with a lie on my lips!" he exclaimed indignantly.
"No! go to her with truth on your lips and in your heart, except as in unselfish loyalty to her and to your word you may hide some truth that would give her pain. Mr. Van Berg, you word is pledged. You have won her love and this is your only honorable course. Thus far you have not done her intentional wrong, but if you rush away from duty now in cowardly flight you will do her a bitter and fatal wrong, for she loves you as only few women can love. She has grown wan and pale in your absence, and it touched me to the heart to see her yesterday, though she made such brave efforts to be cheerful and to encourage father. O God, forgive me that I—Go to her when you have become calm—your true self. Love like hers will take what you can give till you can give more, and surely one so lovely will soon win all. If ever I have seen human idolatry in any face it has been in hers, and she will soon banish all this wild passion from your mind. But be that as it may you must keep your word if you would keep my respect, and I would not lose my respect for you for the world. I know you too well to doubt but that you will take up this sacred duty and seek to perform it with the whole strength of your manhood."
Never for a moment had Van Berg removed his eyes from Ida's face, and her words and manner seemed both to awe and control him. As she spoke, his expression became quiet and strong, and when she concluded he came to her side and said earnestly:
"Miss Mayhew, since it is still possible, I will keep your respect, for it is absolutely essential to me. God has indeed given you a woman's soul, and he NEVER MADE A NOBLER WOMAN. You are a friend in truth and not in name, and you have saved me from madly destroying my own future, and perhaps the future of others, which is of far more consequence. If I fail in obeying both the letter and spirit of your words it will be because I cannot help myself."
Her face, which had been so sweet and luminous with her generous impulse and noble thoughts, was growing very pale now, but she rose and gave him her hand, saying with a faint smile that was like the fading light of evening, "I knew you would not disappoint me; I was sure you were worthy of my trust. Let the honest right be our motto henceforth, and all will be well some day. Good-by."
He pressed her hand in both of his as he said fervently, "God bless you, Ida Mayhew!" Then he turned and hastened away, flying from his own weakness and a womanly loveliness which at the moment far excelled any ideal he had ever formed.
He had scarcely reached the road before he remembered that he had left his sketch-book, and he went back for it, but as he turned the corner of the shady path he stopped instantly. The strong, clear-eyed maiden who had rallied the forces of his shattered manhood, and given him the vantage-ground again in life's battle, had bowed her head on the arm of the rustic seat and was sobbing convulsively. Indeed, her grief was so uncontrollable and passionate that in his very soul he trembled before it.
"Oh, Jennie Burton," she moaned, "it would have been easier for me to die for you than to give him up. God help him—God help me through the dreadful years to come!"
His first impulse was to spring to her side, but he hesitated, and then with a gesture and look of infinite regret he turned and stole silently away.
Chapter LIII. A Night's Vigil.
As Van Berg left Mr. Eltinge's grounds he had the aspect of a man who had seen a vision. He had seen more, for the human face expressive of absolute, even though brief, mastery over evil is a nobler object than can be the serene visage of a sinless and untempted angel.
At last he understood Ida Mayhew. If he had deeply honored her when he supposed that as a sincere, honest friend only she had spoken her strong, true words, which might save him from wrecking his life from impulses of shame and wounded pride, how instantaneously was this honor changed into reverence and wonder as he recognized her self-sacrifice at the dictates of conscience. All was now perfectly clear. The truth of her love had flashed out from the dark cloud of her passionate grief, and in its white radiance all the baffling mystery of her past action was dissipated instantly. Now he knew why the brilliant music at the concert garden could not brighten her face, and the end of the symphony saw her in tears. Now he understood why she could not be Jennie Burton's friend, even though capable of becoming a martyr for her sake from a sense of duty. The despairing farewell letter she had once written to him now became fraught with a deeper meaning, and he saw that in throwing away the imperfect rose-bud, and in looking at her as a creature akin to Sibley, he had inflicted mortal wounds on a heart that gave him only love in return. In her desperate effort to conceal an unsought love she had sought the nearest covert, and the stains Sibley had left upon her were no more hers than if he had been a blackened wall. After all her woman's soul had come to her as in the old and simple times when even water nymphs had hearts, and love was still the mightiest force in the universe.
His feeling now was far too deep for his former half-frenzied excitement. There was not a trace of exultation in his manner, and there was indeed no ground for rapture. Only the knowledge that he carried away her respect, and that he was going to the performance of what he believed a sacred duty, kept him from despair.
He did not blame himself as bitterly as might have been supposed that he had not discovered her secret earlier, and it increased his admiration for her, if that were possible, that she had so carefully maintained her maidenly reserve. A conceited man, or at least a man whose soul was infested with the meanest kind of conceit—that of imagining that the woman who gives him a friendly word or smile is disposed to throw herself into his arms—would no doubt have surmised her secret before; but although Van Berg was intensely proud, as we have seen, and had been rendered self-complacent and self-confident by the circumstances of his lot, he had none of this contemptible vanity. The discovery of Ida's love caused him far greater surprise than when he recognized his own, and it was a source of deep satisfaction to him that this modern and conventional Undine had received a nature of such true and womanly delicacy that it had led her to conceal her love like the trailing-arbutus that hides its fragrant blossoms under fallen leaves.
The light had been so clear that he even saw the temptation which he unconsciously had suggested to her while in the city. Unlike the little violet that weakly bowed its head and died because the brook would not stop, she had resolutely set about the task of making him stop, and yet never let him suspect that she was even looking at him. Hence her attempt to penetrate the wilderness of knowledge which was at once so pathetic and comical; hence also her wish to learn the authors and subjects which interested him.
"And she had every reason to believe that she might have won me from the one honorable allegiance I can give," he exclaimed, in deep humiliation, "and probably she would have done so eventually had she not acted liek a saint rather than a woman. I've lost faith utterly in Harold Van Berg, and it will require a great many years to regain it."
When he reached a dense tract of woodland through which the road ran, he concealed himself and waited till she should pass. Two hours elapsed before she did so. The passionate grief that had overwhelmed her was no slight and passing gust. He saw that she leaned back weakly and languidly in the phaeton, and had hidden her face by a vail of double thickness. He followed her at a distance far too great for recognition until she entered the hotel, and then sought to obtain a little rest and food at the nearest village inn; for he found now that his fierce paroxysm of rage and mental torment was over, he had become very faint and exhausted. After he had regained somewhat the power to think and act, he turned his steps towards a narrow, secluded ravine, about a mile from the hotel, knowing that here he would find the deepest solitude in which to grow calm and prepare himself for the quiet self-sacrifice of which Ida had given the example, and which no eye must be able to detect save his to whom the secrets of all hearts are open.
He made no effort to follow any path, but sprang carelessly and rapidly down the steep hillside. When he had almost reached the bottom of the ravine, his foot slipped on a rock half hidden by leaves, and he fell and rolled helplessly down. Before he could recover himself, the rock, which had been loosely imbedded in the soil and which his foot had struck so heavily, rolled after him and on his leg and foot. In sudden and increasing dismay, he found that he could not extricate himself. The stone would have been beyond his ability to lift even if he had the full use of all his powers; but he was held in a position that gave him very little chance to exert his strength.
When he found that it was utterly impossible to push the stone away, he tried to excavate the earth, by means of sticks and his small pocket-knife, from under his leg, but soon found, with a sense of mortal fear, that his limb was resting in a little depression between two other large rocks deeply imbedded in the bottom of the ravine. This depression, and the soft, dry leaves which had covered it like a cushion, prevented the stone from crushing his limb and foot, but also held him in a sort of natural sock.
As these appalling facts became clear, he saw that he was in imminent danger of death by starvation. Then a worse fear than that chilled his very soul. He might die in that lonely spot and never be discovered. The prowling vermin of the night might tear away his flesh, and drag his bones hither and thither, till the leaves that now would soon fall covered them forever from sight and knowledge; but Ida Mayhew, and the orphan girl to whom his honor bound him, would think that he had broken his pledges, and was in truth a vagabond on the earth—eating and drinking, rioting, perhaps in ignoble obscurity. The prospect made him sick and faint for a time, for that which in his first blind sense of shame he had proposed to do, now that he had heard Ida's heaven-inspired words, seemed base and cowardly to the last degree. If she had not brought to him sane and quiet thought, he would have grimly said to himself that fate had taken him out of his dilemma in a fitting way, punishing and destroying him at one and the same time; but now to die and forever seem unworthy of the trust of the woman he so loved and revered was a kind of eternal punishment in itself. He called and shouted with desperate energy for aid but the freshening wind of early September rustled millions of leaves in the forest around him and drowned his voice. He soon realized that one standing on the bank just above him would scarcely be able to hear, even though listening. Oh, why would that remorseless wind blow so steadily! Was there no pity in nature?
Then in a frenzy he struggled and wrenched his leg till it was bruised and bleeding, but the rocky grip would not yield. He soon began to consider that he was exhausting himself and thus lessening his chances of escape, and he lay quietly on his side and tried to think how long he could survive, and now deeply regretted that his wild passion for the past two days had drawn so largely on his vital powers. Already, after but an hour's durance, he was weak and faint.
Then various expedients to attract attention began to present themselves. By means of a stick he drew down the overhanging branch of a tree and tied to it his handkerchief. He also managed to insert a stick in the ground near him, and on its top placed his hat, but he saw that they could not be seen through the thick undergrowth at any great distance. Then more deliberately, and with an effort to economize his strength, he again attempted to undermine the rocks on which his leg rested, but found that they ran under him and hopelessly deep. At intervals he would shout for help, but his cries grew fainter as he became weak and discouraged.
"O God," he said, "there is just the bare chance that some one may stumble upon me, and that is all;" and as the glen fell into deeper and deeper shadow in the declining day, even more swiftly it seemed to him that the shadow of death was darkening about him.
At last the bark of squirrels and the chirp and twitter of birds that haunted the lonely place ceased and it was night. Only the notes of fall insects in their monotonous and ceaseless iteration were heard above the sighing wind, which now sounded like a requiem to the disheartened man. Suddenly a great owl flapped heavily over him, and lighting in a tree near by, began its discordant hootings.
"That's an omen of death," he muttered, grimly. Then at last, in uncontrollable irritation, he shouted, "Curse you, begone!" and the ill-boding bird flapped away with a startled screech, that to Van Berg's morbid fancy was like a demon's laugh. But it alighted again a little further off and drove him half wild with its dismal cries. At last there was a radiance among the trees on the eastern side of the ravine, and soon the moon rose clear and bright; the wind went down, and except the "audible silence" of insect sounds all was still. Nature seemed to him holding her breath in suspense, waiting for the end. He called out from time to time till, from the lateness of the hour, he knew that it was utterly useless.
He began in a dreamy way, to wonder if Ida had missed him yet and was surprised that he had not returned. He thought how strange, how unaccountable even, his conduct must appear to Miss Burton, and how very difficult it would have been to explain it at best. "Ida was wrong, however, in thinking that it is for me that she is grieving so deeply," he murmured, "although she may be right in believing that I have raised hopes in Jennie's mind of a happier future, when time had healed the wounds made in the past. If I had lived, if by any happy chance I DO live, my only course will be to maintain the character of a friend until she gives up the past for the sake of what I can offer. In a certain sense we will be on equal footing, for her lover is dead and my love is the same as dead to me. But what is the use of such thoughts! I shall be dead to them both in a few hours more, and what is far worse, despised by them both," and for the first time in all that awful vigil bitter tears rolled down his cheeks.
Then, slowly and minutely, he went over all that had occurred during that eventful summer. He found a melancholy pleasure which served to beguile the interminable hours of pain—for now his leg and unnatural position began to cause very severe suffering—in portraying to himself the changes in Ida's mind and character from the hour of their first meeting, and it seemed to him very mysterious indeed that the thread of his life should have been caught in hers by that mere casual glance at the concert garden, and then that it should have been so strangely and intimately woven with hers only to be snapped at last in this untimely and meaningless fashion. He groaned, "its all more like the malicious ingenuity of a fiend seeking to cause the weak human puppets that it misleads the greatest amount of suffering, than like the hap-hazard of a blind fate, or the work of a kind and good God. Oh, if I had only waited till my Undine received her woman's soul, what a heaven I might have had on earth! She would have filled my studio with light and beauty, and my life with honor and happiness. Never, never was there a more cruel fate than mine! I shall die, and my only burial will be the infamy which will cover my memory forever."
Then, with a dreary sinking of heart, his mind reverted to the long future before him that was now so terribly vague and dark. In the consciousness of solitude and in order to break the oppressive stillness, he spoke aloud at intervals between his paroxysms of pain. "After all, what is dying? I know how deeply rooted in the human mind is the belief that it is only a departure to another place and a different condition of life. Can a conviction that has been universal in all ages and among all peoples be a delusion? Then whoever or whatever created human nature built it on a lie. This accursed rock has fallen on my body, and holds it as if it were a mere clod of earth, as it soon may be; but it does not hold my mind. My thoughts have followed father and dear, dear mother, and sister Laura across the sea a hundred times to-night. But oh, how strangely my thoughts come back from every one—everything to that dear saint who sacrificed herself for me to-day.—And yet I'm leaving her, I'm leaving all. Whither am I going? It's all dark, DARK; vague and dreary. Oh, that I had her simple faith! Whether true or no it would be an infinite comfort now. What did she say?—'I've found a Friend pledged to take care of me.' That is all I would ask. I would not be afraid to go out into this great universe if I only had such a Friend as she believes in, waiting to receive me. Who cares how strange a place may be if a loved friend meets and greets us. But to go alone, and away from so much to which my heart clings—oh, it is awful! awful!—-
"A man can't die, ought not to die, like a stupid beast unless he is a beast only; nor should death drag us like trembling captives from the shores of time. And yet I must do one of three things: either wait helplessly and in trembling expectancy, or take cousel of pride, and stubbornly and sullenly meet the future, or else appeal to Ida's Friend. It seems mean business to do the last now in my extremity, but I well know that Ida would counsel it, and by reaching her Friend I may at some time in the future reach her again. I know well how my mother—were I dying—would urge me to look to him, whom she in loyal faith worships daily, and thus I may see her once more. The Bible teaches how many in their extremity looked to Christ and he helped them. But then they had not known about him, and coldly and almost contemptuously neglected him for years as I have. Oh, what has my reason, of which I have been so proud, done for me, save blast my earthly life with folly, and permitted the neglect of all preparation for an eternal life. If ever a self-confident man was taught how utterly incapable he was of meeting events and questions that might occur within a few brief days, I am he, and yet, vain fool that I was! I was practically acting as if I could meet all that would happen to all eternity in a cool, well-bred, masterful way. Poor untrained, untaught Ida Mayhew said she had 'found a Friend pledged to take care of her,' and he has taken care of her. He has made her life true, noble, heroic, beneficent. I was content to take care of myself, and this is the result. God might well turn away in disgust from any prayer of mine now, but may I be accursed if I do not become a Christian man, if by any means I now escape death!"
But in his intense longing to see again those he loved so well, and tell them that he had not basely broken his pledges and fled like a coward from duty, he did pray with all the agonized earnestness of a soul clinging to the one hope that intervened between itself and utter despair, but the moon moved on serenely and sank among the trees on the western bank of the ravine. The night darkened again and the stars came out more clearly with their cold distant glitter. Nature's breathless hush and expectancy continued, and there was no sound without and no answer within the heart of the despairing man. At last, in weakness and discouragement, he moaned:
"Well, thank God, brave Ida Mayhew put an honorable purpose in my heart before I died, and I meant to have carried it out. There's no use of praying, for it seems as if I were no more than one of these millions of leaves over my head when it falls from its place. Nature is pitiless and God is as cold towards me as I was once to one who turned her appealing eyes to me for a little kindness and sympathy. O God! if I must die, let it be soon, for my pain and thirst are becoming intolerable."
The dawn was now brightening the east. Nature as if tired of waiting—like some professed friends—for one who was long in dying, ceased its breathless hush. A fresh breeze rustled the motionless leaves, birds withdrew their heads from under their wings, and began the twittering preliminary to their morning songs; and two squirrels, springing from their nest in a hollow tree, like children from a cottage door, scrambled down and over Van Berg's prostrate form in their wild sport, but he was too weak, too far gone in dull, heavy apathy to heed them.
At last he thought he was dying, and he became unconscious. He learned that it was only a swoon from the fact that he revived again, and was dimly conscious of sounds near him. It seemed to him that he was half asleep, and that he could not wake up sufficiently to distinguish whether the sounds were heard in a dream or in reality. But he soon became sure that some one was crying and moaning not far away, and he naturally associated such evidences of distress with what he had seen last in Mr. Eltinge's garden. He therefore called feebly:
"Merciful God!" exclaimed a voice, "who is that?"
His heart beat so fast he could not answer at once, but he heard a light, swift step; the shrubbery and low branches of the trees were swept aside, and Jennie Burton's blue eyes, full of tears but dilated with wonder and fear, looked upon him.
"O, Jennie Burton, good angel of God! he has sent you to me," cried the rescued man, who with a glad thrill of joy felt that life was coming back in the line of honor and duty.
"Harold Van Berg! what are you doing here?" she asked in wild amazement.
"I was dying till you came and brought me hope and life, as you have to so many others."
"Thank God, thank God," she panted, and she rushed at the rock that had held him in such terrible durance.
He struggled up and tried to pull her hands away.
"Don't do that, Jennie," he said, "you are not quite an angel yet, and cannot 'roll the stone away.'"
"O God!" she exclaimed, with a sharp cry of agony, "in some such way and place HE may have died," and she sank to the ground, moaning and wringing her hands as if overwhelmed with agony at the thought.
Van Berg reached out and took her hand, forgetting for a moment his own desperate need, as he said: "Dear Jennie, don't grieve so terribly."
"God forgive me, that I could forget you!" she said, starting up. "I must not lose a second in bringing you help."
But he clung feebly to her hand. "Wait, Jennie, till you are more calm. My life depends on you now. The hotel is a long way off, and if you start in your present mood you will never reach it yourself, and I had better die a thousand times than cause harm to you."
She put her hand on her side and her convulsive sobbing soon ceased. After a moment or two she said quietly: "You can trust me now, Mr. Van Berg; I won't fail you."
"Do you think you could bring me a little water before you go?" he asked.
"Yes, there's a spring near; I know this place well," and it seemed to him that she flitted back and forth like a ray of light, bringing all the water she could carry in a large leaf.
"Oh," he said, with a long deep breath, "did ever a sweeter draught pass mortal lips, and from your hands, too, Jennie Burton. May I die as I would have died here if I do not devote my life to making you happy!"
"I accept that pledge," she said, with a wan smile that on her pale, tear-stained face was inexpressibly touching. "It makes me bold enough to ask one more promise."
"It's made already, so help me God!" he replied fervently.
A faint, far-away gleam of something like mirth came into her deep blue eyes as she said, "I've bound you now, and you can have no choice. Your pledge is this—that you will make me happy in my own way. Now, not another word, not another motion; keep every particle of life and strength till I come again with assistance," and she brought him water twice again, silencing him by an imperious gesture when he attempted to speak, and then she disappeared.
"That was an odd pledge that she beguiled me into," he murmured. "I fear that in the wiles of her unselfish heart she has caught me in some kind of a trap." But after a little time he relapsed again into a condition of partial unconsciousness.
Chapter LIV. Life and trust.
Ida did not leave the refuge of her room for several hours after her return from the memorable visit to Mr. Eltinge's garden,—for far more than the long hot drive, her heroic, spiritual conflict with temptation, the sense of immeasurable loss, and the overwhelming sorrow that followed, had exhausted her. As she rallied from her deep depression, which was physical as well as mental, and found that she could think connectedly, she turned to her Bible in the hope of discovering some comforting and reassuring truths spoken by that Friend for whose sake she had given up so much.
These words caught her attention, and in accordance with the simplicity and directness of her nature she built upon them her only hope for the future: "HE THAT LOSETH HIS LIFE FOR MY SAKE SHALL FIND IT!"
She sighed: "I have lost that which is life and more than life to me, and it was for Christ's sake. It was because he forgave me and was kind in that awful moment when my crime was crushing my soul. I could not have given up my chance of happiness just because it was right, but the thought that he asked it and that it was for his sake, turned the wavering scale; and now I will trust him to find my life for me again in his own time and way. As far as this world is concerned, my life probably will be an increasing care of father and others, who, like myself, have, or have had 'a worm i' the bud.' But be the future what it may, I've made my choice and I shall abide by it."
Then she turned to the xiv. chapter of St. John, that window of heaven through which the love of God has shone into so many sad hearts; and by the time she had read the words—"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid"—she found that the peace promised—deep, quiet, sustaining—was stealing into her heart as the dawn turns night into day. Simple-minded Ida Mayhew believed that Jesus Christ had kept his word, for that was all faith meant to her. The rationalist practically maintains that such effects are without causes, and the materialist explains that they are physical conditions to be accounted for, by the state of the nervous system.
Ida went down to supper, and spent the evening with her mother in the parlor. She resolved to take up her burden at once, and that there should be no sentimental sighing in solitude. Though so sorely wounded, she meant to keep her place in the ranks and win from society something better than pity. Jennie Burton looked at her wistfully and wonderingly many times, for the impress of the spiritual experience of that day was on her face, and made it more than beautiful. The blending of sadness and serenity, of quiet strength with calm resolve, was apparent to one possessing Miss Burton's insight into character. "Can it be," she thought, "that Van Berg has discovered her secret, and finds that while he can give her warm friendship and sympathy in her new life, he cannot give any more, and has made as much apparent to her by his manner? I thought I detected a different tendency in his mind before he went to the city. Something has occurred between them evidently, that to poor Ida means giving up a hope that is like life to a woman. I wish she would let me talk with her, for I think we could help each other. There is certainly a sustaining element in her faith which I do not possess or understand. Year after year I just struggle desperately to keep from sinking into despair, and the conflict is wearing me out. How to meet to-morrow with all its memories I do not know. I can see from the expression of Miss Mayhew's face how I ought to meet this anniversary of a day that once seemed to me like heaven's gate; but all I can do is just cling to my hope in God, while I cry like a child that has lost itself and all it loves in a thorny wilderness. I DO wish we could talk frankly, but she is utterly unapproachable."
Poor Stanton stalked up and down on the piazza without, smoking furiously and muttering strange oaths. If the troubles that preyed upon the two maidens towards whom his heart was so tender, were outward enemies, the smallest grain of discretion would have kept them out of his way that night, and if Van Berg had quietly walked up the piazza steps as Ida was expecting, he would have received anything but a friendly greeting. That he did not come was a disappointment to Ida, and yet deep in her heart there was a secret satisfaction that he found it so difficult to enter on the task that duty and honor demanded. "I shall see him at breakfast, however," she thought; "and he'll be quiet, sane, and true to his pledge."
But when she did not see him the next morning, and also learned from Stanton that he had not been in his room during the night, forebodings of some kind of evil began coming like prowling beasts of he night that the traveler cannot drive very far away from his camp-fire. Could he have broken his promise to her, and have fled from duty after all? She felt that she would love him no matter what he did—for poor Ida could not love on strictly moral principals, and withdraw her love in offended dignity if the occasion required; but her purer and womanly instincts made her fear that if he forfeited her respect her love might degenerate into passion.
Her wish that he would come grew more intense every moment, and from her heart she pitied Jennie Burton as she saw her turn away from an almost untasted breakfast, and with a face that was so full of suffering that she could not disguise it. "If he fails her utterly she'll die," murmured Ida, as she climbed wearily to her room. "Merciful Saviour, forgive me that I tried to tempt him from her."
She watched from her window, but he did not come. She saw Jennie Burton hastening away on one of the lonely walks to which she was given of late. She saw Stanton drive off rapidly, and when a few hours later he came back, she went down to meet him, and asked hesitatingly:
"Have you seen or heard anything of Mr. Van Berg?"
"Confound him! no. I don't see what the deuce he means by his course! Burleigh says he has not seen or heard a word from him since early Monday morning when he started off with his sketch-book, and Burleigh also says he seemed very glum and out of sorts when he joked him a little. I've been to the landing and depot, and no one has seen him. Unless Van can give a better account of himself than I expect, he and I will have a tremendous falling out."
"No, Cousin Ik, you will leave him to himself, for anything like what you threaten would wound two hearts already sad enough."
"Well, curse it all! I must do something or other, or I'll explode, I can't sit by and twirl my thumbs while two such women as you and Miss Burton are in trouble. When a man breaks a girl's heart I feel like breaking his head."
"Merciful heaven! See—quick—Miss Burton—she's beckoning to you."
Stanton sprang from the piazza at a bound, and was almost instantly at Jennie Burton's side, who sank into a seat near, and gasped:
"Do as I bid—no words—a carriage, and a stout man with yourself—take brandy. Haste, or Mr. Van Berg will die."
"O God! don't say that," Ida sobbed, kneeling at her feet with a low shuddering cry.
Jennie stooped over and kissed her and said: "Courage, Miss Mayhew, all will yet be well. Be your brave self, and you can help me save him. Tell Mr. Burleigh to come here. Have a physician sent for."
Ida almost dragged the bewildered host from his office. Under the inspiration of hope her motions were lithe and swift as a leopard's. Within five minutes after Miss Burton's arrival, a carriage containing herself, Stanton, and two stout men, dashed furiously towards the ravine in which Van Berg was lying, and a buggy was sent with equal rapidity for a physician. Then came to poor Ida the awful suspense and waiting, which is so often woman's part in life's tragedies.
"Oh, can it be," she thought, with thrills of dread and horror, "that he has attempted my crime?" and she grew sick and faint. Then she resolutely put the suspicion away from her as unjust to him. "Will they never return? O God, if they should be too late!"
She stood on the piazza with eyes dilated and strained, in one direction, caring not what any one saw or surmised; but in the increasing excitement, as the rumor spread and grew, she was unnoticed.
At last the carriage appeared, and it was driven so slowly and carefully that it suggested to the poor girl the deliberate and mournful pace of a funeral procession, when all need for haste is past forever, and she sprang down the steps in her intense anxiety, and took some swift steps before she controlled herself. Then pressing her hand on her side, she sank into the seat which Miss Burton had occupied a little before.
Jennie Burton waved a handkerchief—that meant life. "Thank God!" she murmured, and tears of joy rushed into her eyes. She now saw that Stanton was supporting Van Berg. She sprang up the steps again, broke through the excited and curious throng on the piazza, and was back with a strong arm-chair from the office by the time the carriage stopped at the door.
"That's a sensible girl, Ida," said Stanton, "that's just the thing to carry him in. Now, Van, rally and do your best a few moments longer, and you're all right."
At the sound of Ida's name he lifted his head and looked around till he met her eyes, and then smiled gladly. His smile satisfied her completely, and she stepped quietly into the background. "He has not broken his pledge, even in thought," she murmured. "I can trust him still."
He was carried up the steps and stairs to his room, followed by all eyes. Ida stole to Jennie Burton, and kept near her as she sought to quietly gain her room by a side stairs.
"You are faint, Miss Burton," she said gently, "lean on me," and Jennie did lean on her more and more heavily until she reached her room, and then her blue eyes closed, and the day she so dreaded was over, as far as she had consciousness of it. So slight and fragile had she become that even Ida was able to carry her to her couch. Her swoon of utter exhaustion was long and deep, and when she rallied from it there were symptoms which led the physician to say that she must have absolute quiet and sleep, and he gave her strong opiates to insure the latter. Jennie only reached out her hand for Ida and whispered: "Don't leave me," and then passed into a slumber that seemed like death.
With her old imperious manner Ida silenced all who entered the room, or motioned them out if they had no business there.
Stanton whispered: "You know I will be within call any moment." But Ida's reply was: "If you lover her, if you care for me, don't leave him; make him live." Thus, in restoring rest and patient vigils the night wore away. The physician found that while Van Berg's leg was much bruised and wrenched, it had received no permanent injury; and in regard to Miss Burton he said: "If she wakes quiet and sane, all danger will be past, I think."
His hopes were fulfilled. With the dawn her deep stupor passed into a light and broken slumber, in which she tossed, and moaned, and whispered, as if the light of thought were also streaming into her darkened mind. At last she opened her eyes and looked at Ida, who smiled reassuringly. In a few moments the events of the past day came back to her, and she started up and asked earnestly:
"Mr. Van Berg—is he safe?"
Ida stooped down and kissed her as she replied; "Mr. Van Berg is rallying fast, and is out of all danger."
Jennie leaned back among her pillows with a smile of deep content, and closed her eyes. When she opened them again Ida had gone, and Mrs. Burleigh had taken her place as watcher.
But the need of such care passed speedily. The doctor, after his morning call, said that the critical moment of danger had gone by. So it had, but his understanding of Jennie's case was superficial indeed, and he ascribed to his opiate a virtue that it had never possessed. The balm that had soothed her wounded spirit was the thought of saved life and the happiness that might result to those in whom she was deeply interested. The dreaded anniversary had passed, and she was profoundly grateful that it had ended in physical exhaustion rather than in vain and agonized regret. She readily obeyed the physician's injunction to keep very quiet for two or three days, for memory during the past few weeks had caused a fever of mind that was scarcely less wearing than would have been the disease against which rest was the best safeguard. The condition in which she found Van Berg suggested some light on the dark problem of her life, but she only sighed deeply: "I shall never know in this world why he does not come."
When told how Ida had taken care of her and watched till all danger was passed, she murmured to herself, "Brave, noble Ida Mayhew! but I may be able to reward her yet." She needed very little care, and felt no surprise that Ida now permitted others to render these attentions, contenting herself with brief but gentle inquiries concerning her welfare. Jennie only took pains to learn that Ida would not leave the Lake House till Monday of the following week, and then rested and waited. She was not sure of Van Berg, and until she was she would shield Ida as herself. But if it were true, as she surmised that Van Berg imagined that honor and loyalty bound him to her, while his heart was disposed to reward the maiden who had given him hers, she hoped that a little wise diplomacy on her part might do no harm. She very justly feared that Van Berg's gratitude to herself would be so strong that he would consider nothing else, and she also feared that in order to accomplish her kind intentions towards them, it might become necessary for her to tell him the sad story of her life—a story which she had never yet put in words. Therefore she sought to obtain the strength and tranquility of mind which this effort might tax to the utmost. She also imagined that if she could only see Ida and Van Berg together a few times, her course would be clearer.
Van Berg's vital forces had not been drained by weeks of mental distress, and he rallied rapidly. Stanton took care of him with a sort of grim faithfulness which his friend appreciated, but neither of them made any reference to the subject uppermost in their minds. On the afternoon of the day following his rescue, he was able to use crutches, and seated in his arm-chair was carried down to the hotel parlor. The guests thronged around him with congratulations, and Ida came forward promptly with the others but her manner was the most undemonstrative and quiet of any who spoke to him. His earnest look and the pressure of his hand meant so much to her, however, that she soon retreated to the solitude of her room, and her smile was almost glad as she murmured:
"Oh, how much better it is to just take God at his word and do right! If I had yielded to my strong temptation I would not have won him, for now he is bound to Miss Burton by every motive. But by doing right I have kept his respect. Thank God for the glance I have just received, for it is worth far more than any expressions of dishonorable passion. My conscience is light, if my heart is heavy!"
In the quiet and friendly courtesy that Van Berg and Ida maintained towards each other, a casual observer would have seen nothing to excite remark, and the gossips at the house believed they had been misled by the facts that the artist had followed Ida to the city, and returned with her as if by arrangement. They now all agreed that he could not do less than bestow himself as a reward upon the "pretty little school ma'am," as some of the tattling genus persisted in calling Miss Burton. Mr. Mayhew had written that unexpected business complications had arisen which required his whole attention, and as he was acting in trust for others he could not give his time just then to making the change that Ida had wished, but that he would arrange matters so he could enter on his vacation the following week, and then would take Ida wherever she wished to go. He wrote daily, and his letters were sources of double cheer to Ida, for she read between the lines her father's deep sympathy and in the lines found increasing proof that he was a changed man.
Now that events had taken their strange and unexpected turn, she was not sorry to remain. She had no belief that change of place would make any difference in her feelings, and she found that her heart clung strongly to the scenes with which were associated her recent deep experiences. There was nothing in Van Berg's manner now that made it embarrassing for her to meet him. While in his honest effort to keep his pledges, she saw that he apparently gave the most of his thoughts to Miss Burton, and daily had conveyed to her room the rarest flowers and fruits he could obtain, sending to the city for them as well as having the country scoured for its choicest treasures, she also occasionally caught a glimpse of the truth that he honored and reverenced her from the depths of his heart. Although in her sincere diffidence she did not regard herself as worthy of such esteem, still the poor girl, who had been so deeply humiliated and discouraged, was comforted and sustained by his strong and silent homage. She would also be very sorry to forego her daily visits to Mr. Eltinge.
As Thursday was warm, Van Berg spent the greater part of it on the cool piazza, for he was now able to move about on crutches very well. He had no lack of company, but all found him reticent concerning his accident and the causes which had led to it. The most persistent gossip in the house learned no more than the bare facts, and was inclined to believe there was nothing more to learn. That Stanton was so distant was explained by the fact that he was an unsuccessful rival. Both Van Berg and Ida puzzled Stanton as far as he gave them thought, but in his honest loyalty his heart was in the darkened room in which poor Jennie was resting, more from her long passionate struggle with a sorrow she could not bury than from the exhaustion caused by her rescue of Van Berg.
Friday morning happened to be very warm, and Ida did not visit Mr. Eltinge, but ensconced herself in a distant corner of the piazza with a book, the pages of which were not turned very regularly. "I wonder," she thought, "when, if ever, we shall have another friendly talk. What a strange, deep hush, as it were, has come after the passionate joy and desperate sorrow and fear of the past week! It is the type of what my inner life will be. But I must not complain; thousands of hearts, no doubt, are the burial-places of as dear a hope as mine; and One is pledged to give me back my life in some way, and at some time.
"Miss Ida," said a voice that made her start and crimson in spite of herself, "may I come out and talk with you a little while?" and she saw that Van Berg was speaking to her through the window blinds of one of the private parlors.
"Yes," she said hesitatingly, "if you think it is best."
He went around and came openly to her side, bringing a small camp-chair with him. as he steadied himself against a piazza column in taking his seat, and leaned his crutches on the railing, her looks were very sympathetic. With a smile he took on of his crutches in his hands as he said:
"I have come to these very properly at last, and you must have seen their significance. It is my spiritual and moral lameness, however, that now troubles me most, Miss Mayhew. When lying at the bottom of that ravine, expecting death, I vowed, like most sinners in similar circumstances, I suppose, that if I ever escaped I would become a Christian man. I intend to keep the vow if it is a possible thing. But I make no progress. I prayed then, and I have prayed and read my Bible since, but everything is forced and formal, and the thought will come to me continually, that I might as well pray to Socrates or Plato as to Christ. I wish you could teach me your faith."
"Mr. Van Berg," replied Ida, with a troubled face, "I'm not wise enough to guide you in such a matter. I would much rather you would talk with Mr. Eltinge or some learned, good man."
"I shall be glad to see Mr. Eltinge, but I don't care to go to the learned man just yet. We might get into an argument, in which of course I should be worsted, but I fear not convinced. I have never known anything so real as your faith has seemed, but I can obtain nothing that in the least corresponds with it. I ask, but receive no more response than if I spoke to the empty air. Then comes the strong temptation to relapse into the old materialistic philosophy, which I had practically accepted, and to believe that religious experiences are imaginary, or the result of education and temperament. At the same time I have found this philosophy such a wretched support, either in life or in the prospect of death, that I would be glad to throw it away as worthless."
"I fear to speak to you on this subject," she said, "and shall not for a moment attempt to teach you anything. They say facts are stubborn things, and I'll tell you a few, which to my simple, homely common-sense are conclusive. To a man's reason they may count for little. My religious experiences are not the result of education or temperament, but are contrary to both; and if they are imaginary, all my experiences are imaginary. Perhaps I can best tell you what I mean by an illustration that is a pleasant one to me. There is a partially finished picture in your studio that I hope to hang some day in my own sanctum at home. How shall I ever know that I have that picture? How shall I ever know that you have given it to me? I shall know it because you keep your promise and send it to me. I shall have it in my possession, and I shall enjoy it daily. Are not hope, patience, peace, when the world could give no peace, as real as your picture? Is not the honest purpose to overcome a nature that you know is so very faulty, as real a gift as any I could receive? If the Friend I have found promises me such things, and at once begins to keep his word, why should I not trust him? But remember, you must not expect from me very much at first, any more than did Mr. Eltinge from the little pear-tree he lifted up and gave a chance to live. Now, with one more thought, my small cup of theology is emptied. To go back to my illustration: Suppose some person should say that he had not a picture of Mr. Eltinge; that would be no proof that I did not have one, or that you had not given one to me. I don't see, Mr. Van Berg, that the fact that you have no faith this morning, is anything against the fact that I and Mr. Eltinge, and so many others do have faith, with good reasons for it, and are able to say, "I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth.' The testimony of other people counts for something in most matters. Why must such men as Mr. Eltinge be set down either as deceivers or deceived, when they state some of the most certain facts of their experience?"
"I knew you were the right one to come to," he said, looking at her so earnestly that her eyes fell before his; "but why is it, do you think, that I receive no answer?"
"As I told you, my little cup of knowledge is empty, but it seems to me that in your happy, wonderful rescue you were answered. You have promised to become a Christian, Mr. Van Berg. You certainly did not limit your effort to this week. Surely to be a Christian is worth a lifetime of effort."
"I understand you again," he said with a smile; "you leave me no other choice than to make a lifetime of effort. But I fear it will be awfully up-hill work. The Bible seems to me an old-world book. Many parts take a strong hold on my imagination, and of course I know its surpassing literary merit; but I don't find in it much that seems personally applicable or helpful. Do you? I admit, though, that when I read words this morning to the effect that 'a brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand.' I felt that the good old saint must have had his prophetic eye on me at the time of writing."
"You are as unjust towards yourself as ever, I see," she said. "I have found another Psalm that to me meant so much that I have committed the first part of it to memory. You can understand why the following words are significant," and in the plaintive tones that had vibrated so deeply in his heart when she read to Mr. Eltinge, she repeated:
"I love the Lord because he hath heard my voice and my supplication.
"Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
"Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
"The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low and he HELPED me.
"Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
"For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
"And this is my conclusion, Mr. Van Berg, 'I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.' I am going to find plenty of good, live, wholesome work to do 'in the land of the living,' and I intend to do it as if I enjoyed it; indeed, I think I shall enjoy it," and she rose and left him with a genial and cheery smile.
But he sat still and thought long and deeply. At last he muttered in conclusion: "'By their fruits ye shall know them.' Once more, God bless Ida Mayhew for all she has been to me!"
When they were gathered at dinner, Jennie Burton walked in and took her seat in the most quiet and matter of course way possible.
Van Berg laid down his knife and fork and exclaimed: "You have stolen a march on us. We designed giving you an ovation when you came down."
"Will you please pass me the bread in its place, Mr. Van Berg?" she replied in her former piquant, mirthful way. "With the appetite that is coming back to me, one of Mr. Burleigh's good dinners is far more to my taste than an ovation which I now decline with thanks."
Very pale and slight she certainly had become, but they saw her old cheery, indomitable spirit once more looked out of her blue eyes and vibrated in the tones of her voice. With the changes indicated, she was the same bright little "enigma in brown" that had so fascinated Van Berg the first day of her arrival, and led him to make the half-jesting prediction to Stanton that had been so thoroughly fulfilled. In spite of themselves her irresistible grace, wit, and humor created continuous and irrepressible merriment at their table, which Ida seconded with a tact and piquancy but little inferior to that of Miss Burton herself. Straightforward and rather slow-witted Stanton rubbed his eyes and vowed between the first hearty laughs he had known for many a long day that he was practised upon, and that he intended to have Miss Burton indicted as a witch, and Ida as an accomplice.
But Jennie Burton could not escape the ovation, for she had won a secure and large place in the esteem, and in many instances, in the affections of her summer associates. After dinner, no matter which way she turned, hands were extended and hearty words spoken, and while at dinner even the colored waiters grinned approvingly whenever she looked towards them. Mr. Burleigh finally brought the congratulations and jollity to a climax by hoisting the flag and trying to drum "Hail Columbia" on a gong.
"That's his way," said Mrs. Burleigh in an aside to Jennie; "but would you believe it, the poor man has scarcely eaten or slept since you have been ill. If it had been any one else but you I'd been jealous."
But Van Berg knew well that all this geniality was like the ripple and sparkle that play above deep waters. Occasionally he found Miss Burton's eyes directed towards himself in a way that caused him deep anxiety, and he had an uneasy consciousness that she was reading his innermost thoughts. While he exerted his utmost power to banish everything from his mind that was not loyal to her, he made no effort to avoid Ida or say little to her at the table and during the afternoon, but rather took pains to treat her with frank and cordial courtesy; however, in spite of himself, he could not keep out of his eyes at all times the reverence and gratitude with which his very soul overflowed; for he felt that he owed to Ida, who had saved his manhood, far more than to Jennie, who had saved his life only.
Ida also observed Miss Burton's slight and carefully disguised scrutiny with a fluttering heart. "I suppose he does the best he can," she thought; "but she'll surely find him out; there is no use of trying to hide anything from a woman who loves. Well, well, let her but remain discreetly blind for a little time, and with her powers of fascination she will win him heart and soul."
Before Jennie slept that night her mind was clear as to her course. "I think," she murmured, "I understand them both now. His manner towards Miss Mayhew is certainly not that of a conventional lover; but as I have seen him look at her twice as if he could say his prayers to her, I think I'll venture on the only match-making I ever attempted. But what to do with Mr. Stanton, I don't know. Poor man! he might as well love a shadow as me, and yet he seems so simple, honest, and real himself. He is disappointing me daily, and I have wronged him very much. I thought him a selfish man of the world, but he persists in offering me a chivalric, unselfish devotion, for which he asks nothing in return. Alas! I can give him nothing—nothing compared with what he gives."
"I am going to make my last visit to Mr. Eltinge and the old garden," said Ida to Van Berg as she passed him on the piazza the following morning.
He looked after her so wistfully, and sighed so deeply, that Jennie Burton, unseen herself, smiled as if she had discovered something that gave her deep satisfaction.
"Mr. Van Berg," she said a few moments later "can you give me a little of your valuable time to-day?"
"All of it," he said promptly.
"Thanks. I shall take, then, all I want. Come with me to yonder shady rustic seat, for I long to be out of doors again; and you have learned to hobble so gracefully and deftly that you can manage the journey, I'm sure."
He accompanied her, wondering a little at her words and manner. When they had reached the seclusion she sought her manner changed, and she became very grave and earnest, for she felt that it might be the crisis moment of two lives, and she was not one who could self-complacently and confidently seek to shape human destiny.
"Mr. Van Berg," she said, "I shall not use any tedious circumlocution, for your time is precious this morning; more so than you think at this moment. Nor shall I try to entrap you by guile and feminine diplomacy; but you made me a very explicit pledge when I found you last Tuesday morning."
"Yes, Jennie Burton, I am yours, body and soul."
"But how about your heart, Mr. Van Berg?"
"My heart overflows with gratitude to you," he said promptly, but with rising color; "and as I said when you rescued me, so now I vow again, I dedicate my life to you. I do not ask you to forget the past all at once—I do not ask you to forget it at all—but only to let me aid you in taking the bitterness out of those memories that now are destroying as sweet and beneficent a life as God ever gave. I have suspected that you had some unselfish guile in that last promise you obtained from me, but I shall be loyal to the promise I intended to make, and which was in my mind; I shall be loyal to the promise I made you at first, to win you if I could, and I shall wait till I can."
"What, then, will Ida Mayhew do?" she asked looking him full in the face.
He colored still more deeply, but meeting her searching gaze without blenching, he said, firmly and quietly: "She will always do what is right and noble, God bless her!"
Miss Burton appeared a little perplexed and troubled for a moment, and then said, slowly: "I called you my friend last July, and when I speak in the mood I was in then I mean all that I say. Friends should be very frank when the occasion requires, or else they are but acquaintances. I am going to be very frank with you to-day, and if I err, charge it to friendship only. Ida Mayhew loves you, Mr. Van Berg; she has loved you almost from the first; and now that her life has become so noble and beautiful, I am greatly mistaken if you do not return her affection. If this be true, what are you offering me?"
"I HAVE given you, Miss Burton, my truth and loyalty for all coming time. You may decline them now—you probably will—but you cannot change my attitude towards you or alter my course. I shall not attempt to hide anything from you. Indeed, to do so would be vain, and I have never been intentionally insincere with you." Then he told her of the freak of fancy that had led him to follow Ida to the country in the first instance, and much that followed since, making no reference, however, to her dark purpose against herself. In conclusion he said: "Of late, for reasons obvious to you, she has had strong fascinations for me, but above and beyond these has been her influence on the side of all that's right, manly, and true. I have never spoken of love to Miss Mayhew. Honor, loyalty, unbounded gratitude, and deep affection bind me to you, and shall through life. Please say no more, Miss Jennie, for if any question was ever settled, this is."
"Then you propose to sacrifice yourself and Miss Mayhew for the shadowy chance of making me a little happier?"
"I shall not be sacrificed, and Ida Mayhew would justly reject me with scorn were I disloyal to you. I can give you more love, Jennie Burton, than I fear you will ever give me, but I shall wait patiently. When months and years have proved to you the truth of my words, you may feel differently. Let us leave the subject till then."
"Oh, Mr. Van Berg, I shall have to tell you after all," she said burying her face in her hands.
"You need not now," he replied gently. "You have been ill and are not strong enough for this agitation. You never need to tell me unless it will make your burden lighter."
"It will make my burden lighter to-day," she said hurriedly. "Pardon me if I tell my story in the briefest and most prosaic way. You are the first one that has heard it. It may not seem much to you and others; but to me it is an awful tragedy, and I sometimes fear my life may be an eternal condition of suspense and waiting. You have been very generous in taking me so fully on trust, but now you shall know all. I am the only daughter of a poor, unworldly New England clergyman. My mother died before I can remember, and my father gave to me all the time he could spare from the duties of a small village parish. He and the beautiful region in which we lived were my only teachers. One June morning Harrold Fleetwood came to the parsonage with letters of introduction, saying that his physician had banished him from books and city life, and he asked if he could be taken as a lodger for a few weeks. Poor and unworldly as father was, for my sake he made careful inquiries and learned that the young man was from one of the best and wealthiest families of Boston, and bore an unblemished reputation. Then, since we were so very poor, he yielded to Mr. Fleetwood's wishes, hoping thus to be able to buy some books, he said, on which our minds could live during the coming winter.
"To me, Harrold Fleetwood was a very remarkable character. While he always treated me with kindness and respect, he did not take much notice of me at first; and I think he found me very diffident, to say the least. But, as he had overtaxed his eyes, I began to read to him; and then, as we became better acquainted, he resumed a habit he had, as I soon learned, of speaking in half-soliloquy concerning the subjects that occupied his mind. He said that an invalid sister had indulged him in this habit, and he had tried to think aloud partly to beguile her weariness. But to me it was the revelation of the richest and most versatile mind I have ever known. At last I ventured to show my interest and to ask some questions, and then he gradually became interested in me for some reason."
"I can understand his reasons," said Van Berg emphatically.
"He did not know at first how much time father had given me and to what good uses we had put the books we had. Well, I must be brief. Every day brought us nearer together, until it seemed that we shared our thoughts in common. I ought not to complain, for perhaps in few long lives does there come more happiness than was crowded in those few weeks. It was the happiness of heaven—it was the happiness of two souls attuned to perfect harmony and ranging together the richest fields of truth and fancy. Dear old father was blind to it all, and I had scarcely thought whither the shining tide was carrying me until last Tuesday five years ago, Mr. Fleetwood said to me, 'Jennie, our souls were mated in heaven, if any ever were, and I claim you as the fulfillment of what must have been a Divine purpose.' I found that my heart echoed every word he said.
"Then he appeared troubled and said that I must give him time to untangle a snarl into which he had drifted rather than involved himself. His family were wealthy and ambitious, and they had always spoken of his marriage with a cousin who was an heiress, as a settled thing. He had never bound himself by word or act, and often laughingly told his parents that they could not arrange these matters on strictly business principles, as did aristocrats abroad—that the young lady herself might have something to say, if he had not. But he was wrapt up in his studies—he was preparing for a literary life—and events drifted on until he found that every one of his house hold had set their hearts on this alliance. All that he could say against it was that he was indifferent. The lady was pretty and tried to make herself agreeable to him; while he felt that they had little in common, and was also led to believe that she would good-naturedly leave him to his own pursuits, and so he entered no protest to the family schemes, but drifted. That was the one defect of his character. He was a man of thought and fancy rather than of decision and action.
"When he returned home and told his parents of his attachment for me, they were furious, and wrote very bitter letters to both father and myself, accusing us of having intrigued to obtain a wealthy alliance. Thank God! father never saw the letter, as he died suddenly, before he knew how sore a wound I had received. Nor did I ever show the letter to Mr. Fleetwood, for my father had trained me too well to sow dissension between parents and son.
"An aunt took me to her home. She was a kindhearted old lady, but very matter-of-fact and wholly engrossed in her housekeeping, and I told her nothing. I waited till Mr. Fleetwood sought me out, which he soon did. I saw that his family were moving heaven and earth to break off his engagement with me, and it evidently pained him deeply that he must so greatly disappoint his parents. But the consideration that weighed most with him was this: they urged upon him in every possible way that hopes had been raised in the heart of the young lady herself, and although he was always very reticent in regard to her. I think she seconded the family scheme, for the marriage would have joined two very large estates. Although my heart often stood still with fear while he apparently wavered a little, I can honestly say I left him free to make his own choice. They persecuted and urged him to that extent, and so confused his sense of right and wrong, that, in order to escape from his dilemma, he managed to get a lieutenant's commission in the army in spite of his physician's protest, and before his family realized what they regarded as an immeasurable disaster he was in the Union ranks at the front. It HAS proved an immeasurable disaster to me.
"He came to see me before he went south, and told me that he preferred death to any other bride than myself. In sad foreboding I begged him to give me up rather than go into that awful war with his imperfect health. But he went. The rest of my story is soon told. Life in the field seemed to brace him up every way. He wrote me that he had lived hitherto in books and dreams, and that contact with strong, forceful men was just what he needed. He wrote almost daily, and I lived on his letters. He grew strong and heroic in his exposure to danger and hardship, and won promotion on the simple ground of merit. At last, after an arduous campaign, he was slightly wounded and greatly worn, and he received a long leave of absence after the troops went into winter quarters. He wrote then that he was coming home to marry me, and no power on earth could prevent it except my 'own little self,' as he expressed it—oh! I can repeat all those letters word for word. He wrote me the very day and hour on which he would start, and I have waited ever since; and I have vowed before God that I will wait till he comes." And she bowed her head, her eyes were tearless, and she went on still more hurriedly. "I afterwards learned from a brother officer, and also from the papers, that he left his regimental headquarters at the time he said, but that he had to ride through a region infested with guerrillas, and that is absolutely all I know. I am sure he wrote to his family of his intentions in regard to me, but they have never recognized me in the slightest way. The young lady to whom they would have married him wore mourning a year, and then was led to the alter by another man. But, as my Harrold said, God mated our souls, and I shall wait till he joins our lives. Your name startled me greatly when I heard it last June for the first time since I had spoken it myself to one who has seemingly vanished but is ever present to me, and while you do not resemble him in appearance to any close extent, there is at times something in your expression that is singularly like his; and this fact must explain and excuse all the weak exhibitions of myself this summer. And now, my friend, permit me to say that your rather ardent words on one or two occasions never deceived me for a moment. You mistook your warm sympathy for love. I, who had seen and known the love of Harrold Fleetwood, could not make such a mistake. You do love Ida Mayhew, and she is worthy; and in no possible way could you do so much to add to my happiness, now and always, as by aiding that beautiful girl develop her new and beautiful life. Harold Van Berg, I would regard it as an insult if you ever spoke to me of love and marriage after what I have told you to-day. I shall always value your friendship very, very much, for I am now alone in the world, and I think I have found in you a friend in whom I can trust absolutely, and to whom I could go in case there should be need. Probably there never will be, for, in my simple, busy life, I have few wants. You may tell Mr. Stanton what you think best of my story after I am gone. I regret unspeakably that he should think of me as he does, for I have learned to respect him as a true, noble-hearted gentleman. It is one more of life's strange mysteries. Mr. Van Berg," she said, springing up, "you have made to me one pledge that you can keep—only one. You have promised to 'make me happy in my own way.' Brave Ida Mayhew caught me in her arms when I fainted last Tuesday, and she watched at my side till morning. Yes, she did; the noble and generous girl! But I promised myself the pleasure of rewarding her, if possible. Now, if you wish to do something for me that demands prompt, heroic action, scramble into a buggy and let one of Mr. Burleigh's men drive you to that old garden before she leaves it. She found her new spiritual life there, let her also find her happy earthly life in the same loved place. Not a word, but go at once if you have any regard for my feelings and wishes. As I have told my story, your sympathetic face has been more eloquent than any words, and leaves nothing to be said. I refuse to see you or speak to you again till you have fulfilled the only promise I ever asked or wished you to make," and she left him and quickly disappeared.
Ten minutes later Van Berg was being driven towards Mr. Eltinge's place, at a speed which threatened, in case of accident, to place him beyond the use of crutches. As he rode along in front of the house he saw that Ida's old horse and low phaeton were still in the shade of the trees; therefore, dismissing his driver, he hobbled with singular alacrity across the lawn and suddenly presented himself before Mr. Eltinge and Ida, much to the surprise of the latter, who hastily wiped her eyes and sought to hide the fact that her thoughts had not been very cheerful.
"Pardon me," he said, "but I left my sketchbook here some days since; and I especially wished to bid Mr. Eltinge good-by and to thank him with all the warmth and fulness that can be put into words."
Mr. Eltinge was cordially and gravely kind in his reception, but Ida kept her face averted, for she knew that the traces of grief were too apparent.
After a few moments Mr. Eltinge said: "Since this is your last visit, I cannot think of letting either of you go back before dinner, and, if you will excuse me for a little time, I soon can see that our simple arrangements are made."
"I shall be very glad to remain," said Van Berg, so promptly that Ida turned and looked at him with surprise. She was still more surprised when, as soon as they were alone, he hobbled to the rustic seat and sat down beside her.
"Miss Ida," he said, "you have always given me such admirable advice that I come to you again. Miss Burton refuses me absolutely and irrevocably, and in language that renders it impossible for me ever to address her again on the subject. You thus perceive what a forlorn object is before you—a rejected man and a cripple!"
"Miss Burton refused you!" exclaimed Ida in utter amazement. "You were but a cold wooer, I imagine," she added reproachfully, and she rose from the seat and stood aloof from him.
"You know well, Miss Ida," he said earnestly, "that a falsehood would be impossible in this place, and I assure you I honestly did the best I could. We have plighted our faith in a friendship that will be a brother's love on my part, but she said solemnly that she would regard offers of marriage from me, now or at any future time, as an insult. In brief, she has at last told me her story. Her lover is dead, and it was because she detected certain resemblances in my appearance to him that she looked at me sometimes in the way you described. I had surmised as much before, but at one time hoped that this accidental resemblance might give me a vantage-ground in winning her from a past that I knew must have been very sad indeed. My resemblance was only an outward one, the man himself was immeasurably my superior, and on the principle of contrast alone Jennie Burton could never think of me. But her love for Harrold Fleetwood is her life. It is a strange, unearthly devotion that time only increases. I felt weeks since that I could worship her as a saint far easier than I could love her as a woman, and I now know the reason. It would indeed be an insult for any man to speak to her of love and marriage, if he knew what I have learned to-day."
"Then poor Cousin Ik has no chance either," said Ida, with tears in her eyes.
"No, I do not think he has, although she has learned to appreciate him. She spoke of him as a 'true, noble-hearted gentleman,' and such terms from the lips of a woman like Jennie Burton are better than a king's title. As far as my complacent and deliberate wooing of last summer is concerned, I believe that when it did not pain and annoy her she was rather amused by it. She had seen the genuine thing, you know, and thus I was the only one imposed upon by a sentiment which at the time received the unqualified approval of my infallible reason and judgment. The very superior Mr. Harold Van Berg once declined your acquaintance, as you may remember. Take your full revenge upon him now, for you see to what a battered and dilapidated condition of body and mind he has been reduced. He has developed a genius for blundering and getting himself and other people into trouble, that is quite sublime. If ever a man needed daily advice and counsel, he does, and the incalculable service that you have rendered him in this respect leads him to come to you again."
"Indeed, sir," said Ida, turning away with a crimson face, "I have no further advice to give you. Mr. Eltinge will soon be back; take him as your counsellor. I'm going to gather some flowers for dinner."
He at once was on his crutches and in close pursuit, but she flitted away before him till in despair he returned to the rustic seat. Then she shyly and hesitatingly began to approach, apparently absorbed in tying up her flowers.
"Haven't you observed that I am a cripple?" he asked.
"I have observed that you are a very nimble one."
"I think you are very cruel to treat a helpless man in this style."
"Indeed, sir, I have not taken away your crutches. When you spoke of a helpless man, to whom did you refer?"
"I thought you once said that mercy was 'twice bless'd.'"
"That's a truism that has become a little trite. Don't you think Mr. Eltinge will like my bouquet?"
"Here is a flower that to me is worth all that ever bloomed. Come and tell me if you still recognize it," and he took out the little note-book in which was pressed the imperfect and emblematic rose-bud.
"Poor little thing!" Ida sighed, looking over his shoulder, "how faded it has become!"
By a motion that was almost instantaneous he dropped the note-book and caught her hand. "Yes, Ida," he said eagerly, it is faded, but it grows dearer to me daily, as you will long after the exquisite color has faded from your face. Ida Mayhew, the brook has stopped now because it cannot help itself, nor will it ever go on again, even in spring or summer, unless it bears you away with it."
She turned and looked him full in his eyes, in accordance with her custom when she felt that she must know the innermost thoughts of the speaker.
"Mr. Van Berg," she said very gravely, "let that little emblem there remind you that you are speaking to a very faulty and ignorant girl. I cannot regain in a few weeks what I have lost in a wasted life. You may regret—-"
"Hush, Ida; for once I will not listen to you. When I believed myself dying my chief thought was of you, and when I heard sounds near me, in my half unconscious state I called your name."
"Oh, that it had been my privilege to answer," she sighed.
"You saved me when I was in far worse peril," he resumed in words that flowed like a torrent. "You saved my honor, my manhood; you saved me from folly that would have blasted my life. I owe far more to you than to Jennie Burton, and I know at what cost to yourself. Ida, I shall never hide anything from you. I came back last Monday for my sketch-book, and I heard you say: 'It would be easier for me to die than give him up for your sake, Jennie Burton.' Then only I learned your secret; then for the first I understood your self-sacrifice for the sake of honor and duty. Until then I thought the struggle to forget would be on my part only. From that moment never did a man honor a woman more than I honor and reverence you. My mother gave me this ring and told me never to part with it until I found a woman that I could love and honor even more than her, and I never shall part with it till I put it on your hand," and she had scarcely time to glance down, before she saw a diamond glittering on her engagement finger.