Part 9 out of 10
away, and for a few minutes she utterly lost her self-control. She
buried her face in her hands, and her low, stifled sobs filled Van
Berg with the keenest distress and perplexity.
"Miss Ida," he said earnestly, "I would rather every tear you are
shedding were a drop of my blood," but his words only made them
flow faster still.
Suddenly she sprang up, and turning her back upon him, dashed away
her tears almost fiercely. "Oh! this is shameful!" she exclaimed,
in low, indignant tones. "Mr. Van Berg, what must you think of
me? Please turn Mr. Eltinge's face away, for he is looking at me
just as he did when my heart was breaking, and--and--I've lost my
self-control, and I had better not come here till I can cease being
so weak and foolish."
"Is it weak to be grateful?" he asked, gently. "Is it foolish to
love one so thoroughly entitled to your love? I honor you for your
deep and tender affection for Mr. Eltinge, and every tear you have
shed proves to me that in this perfect flower I am now finding the
true emblem of yourself."
"No," she said, almost passionately, "I have no right to it. The
other one that you threw away is true of me, and always will be.
This but mocks me with its perfection. I would be a hypocrite if
I should put it in my hair, and smile complacently while you painted
it. My heart clings to the other emblem, and I know I must develop
as best I can, as that would have done after its destroyer was
taken away. No, Mr. Van Berg. I have seen myself in the strong,
sharp light of truth. If you are willing to be my friend, please
be an honest one. My faithful old friend in the country would
scarcely take my portrait if this perfect flower were introduced
with any such meaning as you attach to it, and I certainly would
be ashamed to give it to him. Mr. Van berg, we MUST let bygones
by bygones, or we never can get on. See how absurdly I have acted
both yesterday and to-day, and all through recalling the past.
Indeed, indeed, it will never do for me to come here again, and
if you can make such a marvellous likeness of Mr. Eltinge as you
have, I scarcely think there will be any need."
"My success with Mr. Eltinge's portrait is the result of a few happy
strokes that I might not be able to give again if I tried a year.
Believe me, Miss Mayhew, I not only wish to be an honest friend, but
a very considerate one. I promise never to urge you to do anything
that will cause you pain. I can understand how the features of
your kind friend have touched the tenderest chords of your heart,
and I respect your study fidelity to your conscience in refusing
to let me paint this bud in your hair; but you must also do me the
justice to believe that I meant no hollow compliment when I searched
for it among the florists. Must I throw this one away, too?" he
asked, with a glance that was very ardent for a friend; "for since
I obtained it for you, it must receive its fate at your hands only."
"I'll wear it, simply as your gift, with pleasure," and she fastened
it in her breastpin, so that its crimson blush rested against the
snowy whiteness of her neck.
He looked her full in the eyes and said, with low, sad emphasis:
"I do not deserve such respect." Then the knowledge that she was
harboring a purpose which troubled her conscience, but which she
could not abandon, became the cause of a trace of her old recklessness
of manner. She assumed a sudden gayety, as if she had stepped out
of shadows into too strong a light, as she said:
"Mr. Van Berg, you may well hesitate to bring the appetite you say
had last night to our house this evening, and if I stay a moment
longer, you will get no dinner at all. I have not been after the
crude material--as you call it--yet, and I'm told that there is not
a man living so amiable and philosophical, but that a poor dinner
provokes martyr-like expression, if nothing worse;" and with a smile
and a piquancy of manner that seemed peculiarly brilliant against
the background of her deep and repressed feeling, she again left
He tried to return to his work, but found himself once more possessed
by the demon of unrest and impatience. The spiritual wave that
had been lifting him higher and higher was changing its character
and becoming a smoothly gliding current. It was so irresistible
that he never thought of resisting. "Why should he resist?" he
asked himself. Circumstances had interested him in this rare Undine
before she received a woman's soul; circumstances had entangled
his life and hers in what had almost been an awful tragedy; and
now circumstances, or something far beyond, were swiftly developing
before his eyes a spiritual loveliness that was the counterpart
of her outward beauty, and he assured himself that it would be the
greatest folly of his life to lose a trace of the exquisite process
that he might be privileged to see. What artist or poet has not
pictured himself the fair face of Eve as God first breathed into
her perfect clay the breath of life, or has not, in imagination,
seen the closed eyes opening in surprise and intelligence or kindling
with the light of love? And yet the change in Ida Mayhew seemed
to Van Berg far more wonderful and interesting; and to his fancy
if, instead of lying in the beauty of her breathless, statuesque
preparation for life, Eve had been possessed by a legion
of distorting imps, she would have been the type of the maiden he
first had recognized. But he had seen these evil spirits exorcised,
and in their place was coming a noble, womanly soul--sweet,
tender, and strong--and the perfect form and features seemed but
a transparent mould, a crystal vase into which heaven was pouring
a new and divine life. Why should he not long to escape from the
dusty matter-of-fact world and witness this spiritual repetition
of the most beautiful story of the past? Thus his philosophical
mind was able once more to reason the whole matter out clearly and
prove that his wish to annihilate the intervening hours before he
could dare to present himself to Ida Mayhew, was the most natural
and proper desire imaginable. He concluded that a walk through
Central Park might banish his disquietude, and leave time for a
careful toilet, since for some occult reason the occasion seemed
to him to require unusual preparation.
He knew he was unfashionably early when he rang Mr. Mayhew's
door-bell, but he had found it impossible to curb his impatience
to see in what new aspect Ida would present herself that evening.
A hundred times he had queried how she would appear in her own
home, how she would preside as hostess, and whether the taste of the
florid and fashionable mother would not be so apparent as to annoy
him like a bad tone in the picture. yes, that was Mrs. Mayhew's
parlor into which he was shown. It did not suggest the maiden who
had come to visit, nor the quiet, dignified gentleman Mr. Mayhew was
seen to be when at the touch of love's wand a degrading vice fell
away from him. But the artist could find no fault with the host
who greeted him promptly, and when, a few moments later, there was
a breezy rustle on the stairs and he turned to greet his hostess,
his face flushed with admiration and pleasure. It became evident
that the worshipper of beauty was in the presence of his divinity,
and his every glance burned incense to her honor. She had twined
a few rose-leaves in her hair, but wore no other ornament save
the rose he had given her in the morning, which evidently had been
kept carefully for the occasion, for it was unchanged, with the
exception that it revealed its heart a little more openly, as did
Ida herself. And yet she did her best to insure that her manner
should be no more cordial than her character of hostess demanded.
But in spite of all she could do, the light of exultation and
intense joy would flash into her eyes and tremble in her tones that
evening. A maiden would have been blind indeed had she not been
able to read the riddle of Van Berg's ardent friendship now, and
Ida had seen that expression too often not to know its meaning
well. In the morning she had strongly hoped, now she believed.
She no longer walked by faith but in full vision, and she trod with
the grace of a queen who knows her power in the realm that woman
loves best. The glow of her eyes, her repressed excitement, that
vitalized everything she said or did, mystified while they charmed
her guest. "She has become true to nature," he thought, "and like
nature is full of mysterious changes, for which we know not the
cause. At one time it is a sharp north wind, again the south wind.
This morning there was a sudden shower of tears, and before it was
over the sunlight of smiles flashed through them. Now she appears
like a June morning, and I pray the weather holds."
"Oh," thought Ida, in the wild, mad glee of her heart, "how can I
behave myself and look innocent and unconscious, seeing what I do?
He is my very good friend is he? I wish for only one such friend
in the world. It wouldn't be proper to have another. Oh, but isn't
it rich to see how unconscious he is of himself! He is passing into
an exceedingly acute attack of my own complaint, and the poor man
doesn't know what is the matter. I don't believe he ever looked
at Jennie Burton as he looks at me. Ah, Jennie Burton!" The
joyousness suddenly faded out of her face and she sighed deeply.
It seemed to Van Berg for a time that his June morning might become
clouded after all, but while his face was turned towards her with
the expression it now wore no sad thoughts or misgivings could
shadow Ida very long.
Chapter L. Swept Away.
There was no vulgar profusion in the dinner which Ida had ordered,
nor were its courses interminable; and as she gracefully and quietly
directed everything, the thought would keep insinuating itself
in Van Berg's mind, that the home over which she might eventually
preside would be a near suburb of Paradise. He heartily seconded
Ida's purpose that her father should take part in their conversation,
and it was another deep source of her gladness that the one whom
she had seen so depressed and despairing, now looked as she would
always wish him to appear. "Oh, it's too good to last," she sighed,
as her heart fairly ached with its excess of joy.
After dinner Mr. Mayhew asked Van Berg to light a cigar with him in
his study, but the artist declined and followed Ida to the parlor.
"Mr. Van Berg," she said, with a great show of surprise, "how is it
you don't smoke this evening? It seemed to me that you and Cousin
Ik were drawn to a certain corner of Mr. Burleigh's piazza with
the certainty of gravitation after dinner, and then you were lost
in the clouds."
"On this occasion I have taken my choice of pleasures and have
"This is a proud moment for me," she said, with a mirthful twinkle
in her eyes. "I never expected to rival a gentleman's cigar, and
I don't think I ever did before."
"Another proof of my friendship, Miss Ida."
"Yes," she replied demurely, "an act like this goes a good way
towards making me believe you are sincere."
"Miss Ida, you are always laughing at me. I wish I could find some
way to get even with you, and I will too."
"You do me injustice. I, in turn, will lay an offering on the
altar of friendship and will go with you this evening to the concert
"I think you exceedingly, but will leave the offering on the altar,
if you will permit me. I would much rather remain in your parlor."
"Why, Mr. Van Berg, you are bent on being a martyr for my sake this
"Yes, wholly bent upon it."
"How amiable gentlemen are after dinner!" she exclaimed. "But where
was your appetite this evening? Clearly our cook knows nothing of
the preparation of ambrosia nor I of nectar, although I made the
"Did you? That accounts for its divine flavor. Don't you remember
I took two cups?"
"I saw that your politeness led you to send me your cup a second
time. I suppose you accomplished a vast deal again to-day after
you were once finally rid of an embodiment of April weather?"
"I would lose your respect altogether if I should tell you how I
have spent the afternoon. You would think me an absurd jumble of
moods and tenses. I may as well own up, I suppose. I have done
nothing but kill time, and to that end I took a walk through Central
"This hot afternoon! Mr. Van Berg, what possessed you?"
"A demon of impatience. It seemed as if old Joshua had commanded
the sun to stand still again."
"You must indeed by a genius, Mr. Van Berg, for I've always heard
that the peculiarly gifted were full of unaccountable moods."
"I understand the satire of your expression 'PECULIARLY gifted,'
but my turn will come before the evening is over," and he leaned
luxuriously back against the sofa cushion with a look of infinite
content with the prospect before him. "Bless me, what is this over
which I have half broken my back," he exclaimed, and he dragged
out of its partial concealment a huge volume.
"Please let me take that out of your way," said Ida, stepping
hastily forward with crimson cheeks.
"Don't trouble yourself, Miss Mayhew; fortune is favoring me once
more, and I am on the point of discovering the favorite author you
would not mention this morning. An encyclopedia, as I live! from
A to B, with a hair-pin inserted sharply at the word Amsterdam.
Really, Miss Ida, I can't account for your absorbing interest in
"Mr. Van Berg, there is no use in trying to hide anything from you.
You find me out every time and I'm really growing superstitious
"I wish your words were true; but, for the life of me, I can't
understand why you should crave encyclopaedias as August reading,
nor can I see the remotest connection between the exquisite color
of your face and the old Dutch city of Amsterdam."
"Well, the Fates are against me once more. Why I left that book
there I don't know, for I'm not usually so careless. Mr. Van Berg,
I scarcely need to remind you of a fact that you discovered long
ago--I don't know anything. Do you not remember how you tried to
talk with me one evening? You touched on almost as many subjects
as that huge volume contains, and my face remained as vacant through
them all as the blank pages in that book before the printed matter
"But now, Miss Ida, your face is to me like this book after the
printed matter begins, only I read there that which interests me
far more than anything which this bulky tome contains, even under
the word Amsterdam."
"You imagine far more than you see. I think artists are like poets,
and are given to great flights. Besides, you are becoming versed
in my small talk. When you tried it on the evening I referred to,
you were just a trifle ponderous."
"Yes, I can now see myself performing like a lame elephant. Did
you propose to read this encyclopaedia entirely through?"
"I might have skipped art as a subject far too deep for me."
"When you come to that let me take the place of the encyclopaedia.
I will sit just here where you keep your book and give you a series
of familiar lectures."
"I never enjoyed being lectured, sir!"
"Then I'll teach you after the Socratic method, and ask you
"I fear some of them might be too personal. You have such a mania
for solving everything."
"And did you fear that at some of the many sittings I shall need
this fall I might again broach every subject under the sun, and so
you were led to read an encyclopaedia to be prepared?"
"Is that what you mean by the Socratic method? I decline any lessons
concerning art or anything else on that plan, for you would find
"I shall, anyway. How long ago it seems since we took that stupid
walk together on Mr. Burleigh's piazza! We are nearer together
now, Miss Ida, than we were then."
"Oh! no, indeed," she replied quickly; "I had your arm on that
"But you have my sincere friendship and respect now. I can't tell
you how pleased I was when I saw how you had honored the little
emblematic flower I gave you this morning. That you wear it
to-night as your only ornament gives me hope that you do value my
respect and regard."
"I think I had better let the rose-bud answer you, and I confess
I like to think how perfect it is when I remember the meaning you
gave to it, though how you can respect me at all I cannot understand.
Still, I am like father--next to God's favor the respect of those
I esteem does most to sustain and reassure me. But, oh! Mr. Van
Berg, you can't know what an honest sense of ill-desert I have. It
is so hard just to do right, no matter what the consequences may
"The trouble with me is that I am not trying as you are. But I
know, with absolute certainty, that the strongest impulse of true
friendship, or at least of mine, in this instance, is to render
some service to my friend. You will make me very happy if you will
tell me something I can do for you."
"You are helping me very much in your manner towards father, and
I do thank you from the very depths of my heart. In no way could
you have won from me a deeper gratitude. And--well--your kindness
almost tempts me to ask for another favor, Mr. Van Berg."
He sprang to her side and took her hand.
Quickly withdrawing it, she said with a little decisive node: "You
must sit down and sit still, for I have along, tiresome story to
tell, and a very prosaic favor to ask;" for she had resolved, "he
shall go forward now with his eyes open, and he shall never say I
won him by seeming what I was not. If I can't deal right by Jennie
Burton, I will by him."
"I shall find no service prosaic; see, I'm all attention," and he
did look very eager indeed.
"That encyclopaedia suggests my story, and I may have to refer
incidentally to myself."
"Leave the book out; I'll listen for ages."
"I should be out of breath before that. Mr. Van Berg, I'm in earnest;
I don't know anything worth knowing. My life has been worse than
wasted, and the only two things I understand well are dancing and
flirting. Now I know you are disgusted, but its the truth. My old,
fashionable life seems to me like the tawdry scenes of a second-rate
theatre, where everything is for effect and nothing is real. I
have hosts of acquaintances, but I haven't any friends except Mr.
"And Harold Van Berg," put in the artist, promptly.
"It's good of you to say that after such confessions," she continued,
with a shy glance. "I hope it wasn't out of politeness. Well,
I've waked up at last. I think you first startled me out of my
insufferable stupidity and silliness at the concert garden, and
I'm very much obliged to you for the remark you made to Cousin Ik
on that occasion."
"Yes, I remember," Van Berg groaned. "I waked you up as if I were
trying to put your shoulder out of joint. Well, I'm waking up
"You have no idea what a perfect sham of a life I led," and she
told him frankly of her wasted school days and of her trip abroad,
for which she had no preparation of mind or character. "A butterfly
might have flown over the same ground and come back just as wise,"
she said. "But I have suddenly entered a new world of truth
and duty, and I am bewildered; I am anxious to fit myself for the
society of sensible, cultivated people, and I am discouraged by
the task before me. I went to father's library yesterday and was
perfectly appalled by the number of books and subjects that I know
nothing about. The fact that I stumbled into that encyclopaedia,
which gave you the laugh against me, shows how helpless I am.
Indeed, I'm like a little child trying to find its way through a
wilderness of knowledge. I blundered on as far as Amsterdam, and
there I stopped in despair. I didn't know what was before me, and
I was getting everything I had been over confused and mixed up in
my mind. And now, Mr. Van Berg, with your thorough education and
wide experience you can tell me what to read and how to read."
Van Berg's face was fairly alive with interest, and he said eagerly:
"The favor you ask suggests a far greater one on my part. Let me
go with you through this wilderness of knowledge. We can take up
courses of reading together."
At this moment Mr. Mayhew entered, and the artist hesitated to go
on with his far-reaching offers, and, indeed, he suddenly began to
realize, with some embarrassment, how much they did involve.
But Ida maintained her presence of mind, and said, simply: "That
would be impossible, though no doubt exceedingly helpful to me.
Here, as in the instance of the pictures, your good-nature and
kindness carry you far beyond what I ever dreamed of asking. I
merely thought that in some of your moments of leisure you could
jot down some books and subjects that would be the same as if you
had pointed out smooth and shady paths. You see, in my ignorance,
I've tried to push my way through the wilderness straight across
everything. Last evening I pestered my father with so many questions
about politics and the topics of the day, that he thought I had
lost my wits."
Mr. Mayhew leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily, as he
mentally ejaculated: "Well done, little girl!"
"I will brush up my literary ideas, and do the best I can, very
gladly," said Van Berg. "But you greatly underrate yourself and
overrate my ability. I am still but on the edge of this wilderness
of knowledge myself, and in crossing a wilderness one likes company."
"Oh, I could never keep up with your manly strides," said Ida, with
a sudden trill of laughter. "Having secured my wish, I shall now
reward you with some very poor music, which will suggest my need
of lessons in that direction also."
Van Berg was not long in discovering that she would never become a
great musician, no matter how many lessons she had. But she played
with taste and a graceful rhythm, which proved that music in its
simplest forms might become a language by which she could express
her thought and feeling.
"Ida," said Mr. Mayhew, a little abruptly, "I wish to see a friend
at the club. I'll be back before the evening is over."
"Please don't stay long," Ida answered, looking wistfully after
Then they found some ballad-music that they could sing together,
and Van Berg expressed great pleasure in finding how well their
"You have modestly kept quite all summer, and I am just finding
out that you play and sing," he said.
"I would not have the confidence to do either at a hotel. I shall
never be able to do any more than furnish a little simple home
music to friends, not critics."
"I'm content with that arrangement, for I have finally dropped my
character of critic."
"But true friends never flatter," she said. "If you won't help me
overcome my faults I shall have to find another friend."
"As you recommended an ancient woman as nurse, so I will recommend
the venerable friend you have already found, and ask you to let
him do all the fault-finding."
She turned to him and said earnestly: "Mr. Van Berg, are you not
a sufficiently sincere friend to tell me my faults?"
"Yes, Miss Ida, if you ask me to."
"Only as you do so can you keep my respect."
"You are very much in earnest. I never saw greater fidelity to
conscience before; and I should be very sorry if, for any cause,
your conscience were arrayed against me."
She suddenly buried her face in her hands and trembled. Then
turning from him to her piano again she faltered: "I disregarded
conscience once and I suffered deeply," and in the depths of her
soul she added, "and I fear I shall again."
"Miss Ida," he said impetuously, "I cannot tell you what
a fascination your new, beautiful life has for me as seen against
the dark background of memories which neither you nor I can ever
wholly banish. But I am causing you pain now," for she became very
pale, as was ever the case when there was the faintest allusion
to the awful crime which she had contemplated. "Forgive me," he
added earnestly, "and sing, please, that little meadow brook song,
of which I caught a few bars last evening. That, I think, must
contain an antidote against all morbid thoughts."
"You are mistaken," she said. "It's very silly and sentimental;
you won't like it."
"Nevertheless please sing it, for if not to my taste, you will
prevent it from running in my head any longer, as it has ever since
I heard it."
"You will never ask for it again," she said, and she sang the
following words to a low-gliding melody designed to suggest the
murmur of a small stream:
'Twas down in a meadow, close by a brook,
A violet bloomed in a shadowy nook.
She gazed at the rill with a wistful eye---
"He cares not for me, he's hastening by,"
In sunshine and shade the brook sped along,
Nor ceased for a moment his gurgling song.
"'Twould sing all the same were I withered and dead"---
And the blue-eyed violet bowed her head
But the rill and the song went on the same
Till the pitiless frost of winter came,
When the song was hushed in an icy chill,
And the gay little brook at last stood still
"Oh, could I now see the violet blue
that looked at me once with eyes of dew,
I'd spring to her feet and lingering stay
Till sure I was bearing her love away,
The song seemed to disturb the artist somewhat. "The stupid brook!"
he exclaimed. "It was so stupid as to be almost human."
"I knew you wouldn't like it," she said, looking up at him in
"I like your singing and the music, but that brook provokes me,
the little idiot! Why didn't it stop before?"
"I take the brook's part," said Ida. "Because the violet gazed at
it in a lackadaisical way was no reason for its stopping unless it
wanted to. Indeed, if I were the violet I should want the brook
to go on, unless it couldn't help stopping."
"It did stop when it couldn't help itself, and then it was too
late," said Van Berg, with a frown.
Ida trilled out one of her sudden laughs, as she said, "Don't take
the matter so to heart, Mr. Van Berg. When spring came the brook
went on as merrily as ever, and was well contented to have other
violets look at it."
"Miss Ida, you are a witch," said the artist, and with an odd,
involuntary gesture he passed his hand across his brow as if to
brush away a mist or film from his mind.
"Oh!" thought Ida, with passionate longing, "may my spells hold,
or else I may feel like following the example of the silly little
violet." But she pirouetted up to her father, who was just entering,
and said: "It's time you came, father. Mr. Van berg has begun
calling me names."
"I shall follow his example by calling you my good fairy. Mr. Van
Berg, I have been in paradise all the week."
"I shall not join this mutual admiration society, and I insist that
you two gentlemen talk in a sensible way."
But Van Berg seemed to find it difficult to come down to
a matter-of-fact conversation with Mr. Mayhew, and soon after took
his leave. Before going he tried to induce Ida to come to the
studio again, but she declined, saying:
"Mother has entrusted to me several commissions, and I must attend
to them to-morrow morning. As it is, my conscience troubles me
very much that I have left her alone all the week, and I shall try
to make all the amends I can by getting what she wishes."
"Oh! your terrible conscience!" he said.
"Yes, it has been scolding me all day for wasting so much of your
time. Now don't burden yours with any denials. Good-night."
He turned eagerly to protest against her words, but she was retreating
rapidly; she gave him a smile over her shoulder, however, that was
at once full of mirth and something more--something that he could
not explain or grasp any more than he could the soft, silvery light
of the moon that filled the sky, and was as real as it was intangible.
He walked away as if in a dream; he continued his aimless wanderings
for hours, but swift as were his strides a swifter current of
passion, deep and strong, was sweeping him away from Jennie Burton
and the power to make good his open pledge to win her if he could.
He still was dreaming, he still was lost in the luminous mists
of his own imagination. But the hour of waking and clear vision
was drawing near, and Harold Van Berg would learn anew that the
cool, well-balanced reason on which he had once so prided himself
was scarcely equal to all the questions which complex human life
Chapter LI. From Deep Experience.
With the night dreams began to vanish and the prose of reality
gradually to take form and outline in Van Berg's mind. He was
compelled to admit that the plausible theories by which he had
hitherto satisfied himself scarcely accounted for his moods and
sensations the past few days, and memory quietly informed him that
it had never had any consciousness of such a friendship as he now
was forming. But like many another man in the process of conviction
against his will, he became irritable and angrily blind to a truth
that would place him in an intolerable dilemma. He went to his
studio, and worded with dogged obstinacy on the picture designed for
Ida, giving his time to those details which required only artistic
skill, for his perturbed mind was in no mood for any nice creative
He had agreed to meet Ida and her father on the afternoon boat;
and his impatience, and the early hour he started to keep the
appointment, was another straw which he was compelled to see in
spite of himself; nor could he fail to note which way the current
was bearing him.
"Well," he muttered, with the fatuity common in all strong temptations,
"I'll spend a few more hours with this rare Undine, this genuine
woman, who--infinitely more beautiful than Venus--is rising out of
the dark waters of sorrow, shame, and despair, and then if I find
that it will be wiser and safer to be only a somewhat unobtrusive and
distant friend, showing my good-will more by deeds than by seeking
her society, I can gradually take this course without wounding
her feelings or exciting suspicion of the cause. She was right,
although she little imagines the reason; we could never have those
readings together, and I fear I must manage with far fewer visits
to my studio than I had hoped for. What an accursed chaotic old
world it is anyway! How grateful she is because I merely treat
her father politely! It would be impossible to do anything else,
now that he is himself again, and yet, by this simple, easy method,
I have won a friendlier regard than I could by any other means.
Like an idiot, I once thought she would have to withdraw from her
father to develop her new and beautiful life. If even in faintest
suggestion I had revealed that thought to her, I don't believe
she would have spoken to me again; and I foresee that I shall have
to be exceedingly polite to Mrs. Mayhew also, for my Undine is
developing a conscience that might become a man's implacable enemy.
But what am I thinking about! If I do not intend to see much of
the daughter, I shall not waste any time on the mother. I wonder
if Miss Mayhew meant anything by that odd little ballad last evening.
Could she have intended to remind me of blue-eyed Jennie Burton?
No, for she was singing it by herself, when she did not know I was
listening. The idiotic brook! If I had given my whole heart to
the effort I might have won Jennie Burton by this time. Ida Mayhew
was right; no woman that I wish to win will show a lover any favor
till he cannot help stopping and staying, too."
A moment later he stopped short in the street. "Great God!" muttered
he, "do I wish to win Jennie Burton? Whither am I drifting? Would
to heaven I had not made this appointment this afternoon. Well,
I'm in for it now," and he strode along as if he were going to
battle, resolving to be guarded to the last degree, lest Ida should
suspect his weakness.
He saw her come on the boat with her father at the last moment,
her cheeks flushed with the heat and her eyes aglow with the hurry
and excitement of the occasion. He saw one and another of her
young gentlemen acquaintances step eagerly forward to speak to her
and admiring eyes turning towards her on every side. "She won't
lack for friends and companions now, and I soon will be little
missed," he thought bitterly. One gentleman, in his impatience
for her society, sought to obtain her small travelling-bag, ad was
assuring her that he could obtain seats for herself and father on
the crowded boat, when, by her timid glance around, she showed that
she was expecting some one, and Van Berg hastened forward and said
quietly, "I have seats reserved in the pilot-house."
She gave him a glad smile of welcome; but almost instantly her face
became grave and questioning in its expression; and she looked at
him keenly as he cordially shook hands with her father. As they
went away with him, as if by a prearrangement several guests of the
Lake House looked at each other and nodded their heads significantly.
While on the way to the pilot-house, and during their conversation
after arriving there, Ida often turned a quick, questioning glance
towards Van Berg, and her expression reminded him of some children's
faces he had seen as they tried to read the thoughts or intentions
of those who had their interests in keeping. He tried his best
to be cordial and natural in manner--to be, in brief, the sincere
friend that he had professed himself--and Mr. Mayhew did not notice
anything amiss; but even at some inflection of his voice, or at a
pause in the conversation, Ida would turn towards him this sudden,
questioning, child-like look, which touched him deeply while it
puzzled him. But she gradually began to grow "distrait" and quiet,
and to look less and less often. Van Berg had a deep affection for
the noble river on which they were sailing, and had familiarized
himself with its history and legends. By means of these he sought
to entertain Ida and her father, and with the latter he succeeded
abundantly; but he often doubted whether Ida heard him, for her
eyes and thoughts seemed to be wandering beyond the blue Highlands
which they now were entering. At last Mr. Mayhew left them for a
while, and Van Berg turned and said gently:
"Miss Ida, you are not in good spirits this afternoon."
She did not answer for a moment, but averted her face still further
from him. At last she said, in a low tone: "Mr. Van Berg, did
you ever have a presentiment of evil?"
"I don't believe in such things," he replied promptly.
"Of course not; you are a man. But I have such a presentiment this
afternoon, and it will come true."
"What do you fear, Miss Ida?"
"What does a woman always fear? Earthquakes, political changes,
disturbances in the world at large, of course."
"I have heard that a woman's kingdom was her heart," Van Berg was
indiscreet enough to say.
"It is a pity," Ida replied with one of her reckless laughs, "for
it so often happens that she cannot keep it, and those who wrest
it from her do not care to keep it, and so it comes to be what the
geographies used to call one of the 'waste places of the earth.'
As the world goes, I think I had better retain my kingdom, small
as it is."
He turned very pale, and swift as light he thought: "Has she, by
the aid of her woman's intuition, read my thoughts? Has she seen
the beginnings of a regard for her far warmer than my professed
friendship, and, remembering my suit to Jennie Burton, is she learning
to despise me as fickle, or, worse, as a hypocritical specimen of
that meanest type of human vermin--a male flirt?" and his face grew
so white that Ida in her turn was not only perplexed, but alarmed.
But after a moment he said quietly: "It is not the size of the
kingdom that makes its value, but what it contains. I hope you will
keep treasures of yours till you find some one worthy to receive
them, and I can scarcely imagine that such an idiot exists that he
would not retain them if he could. That is Fort Montgomery yonder,"
and he resolutely continued the story of its defence and capture,
until her father returned saying it was time to come down ad prepare
Ida had scarcely heard a word. Her heart almost stood still with
dread and foreboding, and like a dreary refrain the words kept
repeating themselves, "Oh, I'm punished, I'm punished. I thought
to win him from Jennie Burton, and my reckless words will now make
him true to her at every cost to himself. He knows that I must
have seen how he won the kingdom of her heart, and he'll keep it
now in spite of my love and something I thought love that I saw in
his face. Oh, my punishment is greater than I can bear; but it is
deserved, well deserved. If he had won my love first, what would
I think of the woman who tried to win him from me? She would have
suffered what I now must suffer. My bright but guilty dream is
Van Berg assisted her down to the gangway and out on the wharf with
a grave and scrupulous politeness, but she felt even more than she
saw that her words had stung his very soul. It was their apparent
truth which he could never explain away that gave them their power
to wound so deeply, and every moment brought to him a clearer
realization of the fact that he had tried to win, and was pledged
to win a woman whom to wrong even unwittingly would be an act for
which he could never forgive himself. And yet his heart sank at
the thought of meeting her; indeed, so guilty and embarrassed did
he become in his feelings that he decided he would not meet her
before others, and sprang out of the stage, saying to the driver
that he preferred walking the remainder of the way. Mr. Mayhew
looked at him in some surprise, for his manner had changed so now
as to attract his attention and excite disagreeable surmises.
To Ida's great relief Stanton had come down to meet her with his
light-wagon. He had seen Van Berg at her side again with surprise,
and, after his fast horses had whirled them well away by themselves,
he asked a little abruptly:
"Ida, have you seen Van this week?"
She hesitated a moment, and then said briefly: "Yes. We met at
the concert-garden again, and he dined with us last evening."
Stanton turned and looked at her earnestly, and her color rose
swiftly under his questioning eyes.
"My poor little Ida, we are in the same boat, I fear," he said
She hid her face on his shoulder. "Oh, Ik, spare me," she faltered.
"It's just as I feared," Stanton resumed, with a deep sigh.
"Maledictions on such a world as ours! The devil rules it, sure
"Oh, hush, hush," Ida sobbed.
"I see it all, now; indeed, I've thought it all out this past week.
You Sibley used only as a blind, poor child."
"Yes, Ik, I loathed and detested him almost from the first."
"And in the meantime the sagacious Van Berg and myself were
trampling on you like a couple of long-eared beasts. How did you
ever forgive us!"
"Oh, Ik, Ik, my heart is breaking. I've had such dreams the last
two weeks. I've dared to think I had learned a little of God's love,
and oh--was I blinded by my wishes, by my hopes, by the passionate
longing of my heart?--I thought I saw love in his eyes, and heard
it in his tones, last evening. Everything now is slipping from
me--happiness, hope, and even my faith. But I deserve it all," she
added in her heart. "I could almost curse the woman who tried to
win him from me."
Stanton turned his horses off into a shady and unfrequented side
road where they would not be apt to meet any one. "Good heavens!"
he thought; "this is just the condition of mind that Van warned me
to guard against, and, confound him, he is the cause of the evils
he feared, and in their worst form. I be hanged if I can understand
him. All through July he was Jennie Burton's open suitor--at least
he made no secret of it to me, although his cool head enabled him
to throw the people of the house off the scent--and now he follows
another lady to New York, and leaves his first love on very flimsy
pretexts. By Jove! I don't like it, even though it were possible
for me to profit by his folly."
"My poor little Ida," he said gently, putting his arms around her,
"you and I must stand by each other, for we are like to have rough
weather ahead for awhile. It's no kindness to you now to hide the
truth. I do not know that Van Berg has formally proposed to Miss
Burton, but, as an honorable man, he is committed to her, and
I believe he has won her affections, although I confess I don't
understand her very well. She has evidently had very deep sorrows
in the past, and I am satisfied that she has felt his absence keenly
"I deserve it all," Ida murmured again, but so low he could not
hear her, and she gave way to another outburst of grief.
"It will pain even your heart, Ida, to see how slight and pale
Miss Burton is becoming. She also appears strangely restless, and
takes long walks that are far beyond her strength."
"It's all plain," groaned Ida. "How can she act otherwise! Well,
she will be comforted now, no matter what becomes of me."
"You will be a brave woman, Ida, and pull through all right."
"No, Ik, I'm not brave. I could easily die for those I love; but
I can't just suffer and be patient, at least I don't see how I can;
but I suppose I must."
His arm tightened about her waist, and she felt it trembling.
"Ida," he said, in a low solemn tone, "promise me before God that
whatever happens you will never---"
"Hush!" she gasped, shuddering, "I will die in God's own way. I
will endure as best I can."
He stooped down and kissed her tenderly as he said: "Ida, dear,
from this hour I'm no longer your cousin merely, but a brother, and
your companion in misfortune. I'm going to stand by you and see
you through this trouble. Just count on me to shield you in every
possible way. I don't care what the world thinks of me, but never
a tongue shall wag against you again, or there will be a heavy score
to settle with me. Van and I have been good friends, but he's on
ticklish ground now. He'll find he can't play fast and loose with
two such women as you and Jennie Burton. Curse it all! it isn't
like him to do it either. But the world is topsy-turvey, anyhow."
"Ik, I plead with you, say nothing, do nothing. Be blind and deaf
to everything of which we have spoken. Only help me hide my secret
and get away from this place to some other where I am not known."
"Has your father any idea of all this?"
Ida explained in part her father's knowledge.
"We can easily manage it then," he said. "I had decided to leave
next week. Miss Burton leaves for her college duties very soon
also. The idea of that fragile flower being trampled on nine months
of the year by a crowd of thoughtless, heedless girls! And so our
disastrous summer comes to an end. And yet I'm wrong in applying
that term to my own experience. I wish you felt as I do, Ida. I
haven't a particle of hope, and yet I would not give up my love for
Jennie Burton for all the world; and I don't believe I ever shall
give it up. I think she is beginning to understand me a little
better now, although she does not give me much thought. One day,
while you have been gone, I met her returning from one of her walks,
and she looked so faint and sad that I could not endure it, and I
went straight to her and took her hand as I said: 'Miss Burton,
is there anything Ik Stanton can do to make you happier? It's
none of my business, I suppose, but it's breaking my heart to see
you becoming so sad and pale. I may seem to you very foolish and
Quixotic, but there is no earthly think I would not do or suffer for
you.' She did not withdraw her hand as she replied, very gently:
'Mr. Stanton, please do me the kindness to be happy yourself, and
forget me.' I could only say, in honesty: 'You have asked just
the two things which are utterly impossible.' Tears came into
her eyes as she replied, with emphasis: 'Then, my FRIEND, you can
understand me. There is one whom I can never forget.' She was
kind enough to say some words about my having been generous and
considerate of her feelings, etc., but no matter about them. We
parted, and it's all over as far as she is concerned. When I left
town last June I thought I'd be a bachelor always, because I loved
my jolly ease. I've a better reason now, Ida. Of course Van must
be the one referred to by Miss Burton. You have seen how she looks
at him at times when thinking herself unobserved!"
"Yes," sighed Ida, "it's all right. God is just, and there is no
use of trying to thwart his will."
"Well, Ida, I don't know. It's all a snarl to me. Sometimes
I think the world goes on the toss-up-a-penny plan, and again it
seems almost as if Old Nick himself was behind the scenes.
"Dear Brother Ik, don't talk to me that way. If I do lose ALL my
faith now, I don't know what will happen."
"Forgive me, Ida, I will try to do better by you though I fear I
shall prove one of Job's comforters. We'll stop in the village,
get some supper there, and, thus you won't have to face anybody
to-night, and by to-morrow you will be your own brave self."
"Oh," moaned Ida, "I am almost as sorry for father's sake as for
my own. How can I keep him up when I am sinking myself?"
Mr. Mayhew stood on the piazza, waiting for Ida and wondering why
she did not come, as Van Berg mounted the steps. The majority of
the people had gone in to supper, but Miss Burton, who was a little
late, recognized him from the hallway, and she came swiftly out to
greet him. Her very cordiality was another stab, and he exerted
the whole power of his manhood to meet her in like spirit.
"I did not know I should miss you so much," she said, her eyes
growing a little moist from her strong feeling. "I suppose we
never value our friends as we ought till taught their worth to us
by absence. But if you have been successful in your work I shall
be well content."
"Yes, Miss Jennie," he replied, "I think I have been successful.
The picture is far from being complete, but I've been able to obtain
a much better likeness of Mr. Eltinge than I even hoped to catch."
"Mr. Van Berg, you have been working too hard. You look exceedingly
weary. What possessed you to walk all these miles? Leave us women
to do the unreasonable things, and least of all are they becoming
in you; come at once and get a good supper."
He could not disguise the pain and humiliation that her words caused
him, and said hurriedly, "I will join you in a few moments," and
then hastened to his room.
Mr. Mayhew, with the delicacy of a gentleman, had withdrawn out of
earshot as they conversed, but the warmth of Miss Burton's greeting
had suggested a thought that was exceedingly disquieting. As if
from a sudden impulse he went directly to the supper table, and
his quiet courtesy masked the closest observation.
Van Berg stood in his room a moment and fairly trembled with shame
and rage at himself. Then, with a bitter imprecation, he made the
brief toilet the dust of his walk required, and his face was so
stern and white one might think he was about to face an executioner
instead of Jennie Burton's blue eyes beaming with friendship at
least. The thought of discovering anything warmer in their expression
sent a mortal chill to her former wooer's heart. He expected to
meet Ida at the table, and the ordeal of meeting the woman to whom
he was pledged in the presence of the woman he loved was like the
ancient Trial by Fire.
"Curse it all," he muttered, "they both can read one's thoughts as
if they were printed on sign-boards. I was scarcely conscious of
what my ardent friendship for Miss Mayhew meant before she looked
me in the face and saw the whole truth, and she almost the same
as charged me with winning Jennie Burton's heart then throwing it
away, while in the same breath she hinted that I need not attempt
any such folly and meanness in her case. If ever a man's pride
and self-respect received a mortal wound mine has to-day. And now
I feel with instinctive certainty, that Miss Burton will see the
truth just as clearly, and then my burden for life will be the
contempt of the two women whom I honor as I do my mother's name.
Well, there is no help for it now, my ship is on the rocks already."
He was greatly relieved to find that Ida was not at the table, but,
in spite of his best efforts, Miss Burton soon saw that something
was amiss, and that it was difficult for him to sustain his part of
the conversation. With her graceful tact, however, she was blind
to all she imagined he would not have her notice, and tried to
enliven both Mr. Mayhew and himself with her cheery talk--a vain
effort in each instance now.
"How slight and spirit-like she is becoming!" groaned Van Berg,
inwardly. "Great God! if I have wronged her, how awful will be my
"She loves him," was Mr. Mayhew's conclusion, "and from his manner
I fear he has given her reason. At any rate, for some cause, he
is in great perplexity and trouble."
After supper Van Berg stood near the main stairway, still conversing
with Miss Burton, when a light, quick step caused him to look up
and he saw Ida who had entered by a side door. He knew she must
have seen him and Miss Burton also, but she passed him with veiled
and downcast face, and went swiftly up the stairway to her room. It
seemed to him a cut direct. "she and Stanton have been comparing
notes," he said to himself, and he crimsoned at the thought of what
he must now appear to her. Miss Burton had been standing with her
back towards the stairway and had not seen Ida at first, but Van
Berg's hot flush caused her to glance around and see the cause, and
then she understood his manner better. But it was her creed that
people manage such things best without interference, even from
the kindliest motives, and she therefore made no allusion to Miss
Mayhew that evening.
"Miss Jennie," said Van Berg, yielding to what he now felt had
become a necessity, "I may seem more of a heathen to you to-morrow
than ever. There is a distant mountain and lake that I wish to
visit before I return to town, and I shall start early to-morrow.
So if I do not come back very early you need not think that the
earth has swallowed me up or that I have fallen a prey to wild
beasts. Good night," and he pressed her hand warmly.
She looked at him wistfully and seemed about to speak, for she was
vaguely conscious of his deep trouble. She checked the impulse,
however, and parted from him with a kindly smile that suggested
sympathy rather than reproach.
Stanton called Mr. Mayhew aside and the two gentleman spoke very
"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
"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
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
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,
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
"No," he promptly replied meeting, her searching look unhesitatingly.
Then, with an impatient gesture, he added: "But no one will ever
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"Have you seen or heard anything of Mr. Van Berg?"
"Confound him! no. I don't see what the deuce he means by his