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- Castle Nowhere - 10/23 -
monotonous country of commonplace.)
This impetuous, ardent lover was not the Jarvis she had known, the Jarvis who had been her master, and a despotic one at that. Frightened, shy, bewildered, she fled away from all her dearest joys, and stayed by herself in the flower-room with the bar across the door, only emerging timidly at mealtimes and stealing into the long room like a little wraith; a rosy wraith now, for at last she had learned to blush. Waring was angry at this desertion, but only the more in love; for the violet eyes veiled themselves under his gaze, and the unconscious child-mouth began to try to control and conceal its changing expressions, and only succeeded in betraying them more helplessly than ever. Poor little solitary maiden-heart!
Spring was near now; soft airs came over the ice daily, and stirred the water beneath; then the old man spoke. He knew what was coming, he saw it all, and a sword was piercing his heart; but bravely he played his part. 'The ice will move out soon, in a month or less you can sail safely,' he said, breaking the silence one night when they two sat by the fire, Waring moody and restless, for Silver had openly repulsed him, and fled away early in the evening. 'She is trifling with me,' he thought, 'or else she does not know what love is. By heavens, I will teach her though--' As far as this his mind had journeyed when Fog spoke. 'In a month you can sail safely, and I suppose you will go for good this time?'
Fog waited. Waring kicked a fallen log into place, lit his pipe then let it go out, moved his chair forward, then pushed it back impatiently, and finally spoke. 'Of course I shall take Silver; I intend to make Silver.'
'At last. No wonder you are glad--'
'Glad,' said Fog,--'glad!' But the words were whispered, and the young man went on unheeding.
'Of course it is a great thing for you to have the child off your hands and placed in a home so high above your expectations. Love is a strange power. I do not deny that I have fought against it, but--but why should I conceal? I love Silver with all my soul, she seems to have grown into my very being.'
It was frankly and strongly uttered; the good side of Jarvis Waring came uppermost for the moment.
Old Fog leaned forward and grasped his hand. 'I know you do,' he said. 'I know something of men, and I have watched you closely, Waring. It is for this love that I forgive--I mean that I am glad and thankful for it, very thankful.'
'And you have reason to be,' said the younger man, withdrawing into his pride again. 'As my wife, Silver will have a home, a circle of friends, which--But you could not understand; let it pass. And now, tell me all you know of her.'
The tone was a command, and the speaker leaned back in his chair with the air of an owner as he relighted his pipe.
But Fog did not shrink. 'Will you have the whole story?' he asked humbly.
'As well now as ever, I suppose, but be as brief as possible,' said the young man in a lordly manner. Had he not just conferred an enormous favor, an alliance which might be called the gift of a prince, on this dull old backwoodsman?
'Forty years ago or thereabouts,' began Fog in a low voice, 'a crime was committed in New York City. I shall not tell you what it was, there is no need; enough that the whole East was stirred, and a heavy reward was offered for the man who did the deed. I am that man.'
Waring pushed back his chair, a horror came over him, his hand sought for his pistol; but the voice went on unmoved. 'Shall I excuse the deed to you, boy? No, I will not. It was done and I did it, that is enough, the damning fact that confronts and silences all talk of motive or cause. This much only will I say; to the passion of the act deliberate intention was not added, and there was no gain for the doer; only loss, the black eternal loss of everything in heaven above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters that are under the earth, for hell itself seemed to spew me out. At least so I thought as I fled away, the mark of Cain upon my brow; the horror was so strong upon me that I could not kill myself, I feared to join the dead. I went to and fro on the earth, and walked up and down in it; I fled to the uttermost parts of the sea, and yet came back again, moved by a strange impulse to be near the scene of my crime. After years had passed, and with them the memory of the deed from the minds of others, though not from mine, I crept to the old house where my one sister was living alone, and made myself known to her. She left her home, a forlorn place, but still a home, and followed me with a sort of dumb affection,--poor old woman. She was my senior by fifteen years, and I had been her pride; and so she went with me from the old instinct, which still remained, although the pride was dead, crushed by slow horror. We kept together after that, two poor hunted creatures instead of one; we were always fleeing, always imagining that eyes knew us, that fingers pointed us out. I called her Shadow, and together we took the name of Fog, a common enough name, but to us meaning that we were nothing, creatures of the mist, wandering to and fro by night, but in the morning gone. At last one day the cloud over my mind seemed to lighten a little, and the thought came to me that no punishment can endure forever, without impugning the justice of our great Creator. A crime is committed, perhaps in a moment; the ensuing suffering, the results, linger on earth, it may be for some years; but the end of it surely comes sooner or later, and it is as though it had never been. Then, for that crime, shall a soul suffer forever,--not a thousand years, a thousand ages if you like, but forever? Out upon the monstrous idea! Let a man do evil every moment of his life, and let his life be the full threescore years and ten; shall there not come a period in the endless cycles of eternity when even his punishment shall end? What kind of a God is he whom your theologians have held up to us,--a God who creates us at his pleasure, without asking whether or not we wish to be created, who endows us with certain wild passions and capacities for evil, turns us loose into a world of suffering, and then, for our misdeeds there, our whole lives being less than one instant's time in his sight, punishes us forever! Never-ending tortures throughout the countless ages of eternity for the little crimes of threescore years and ten! Heathendom shows no god so monstrous as this. O great Creator, O Father of our souls, of all the ills done on the face of thy earth, this lie against thy justice and thy goodness, is it not the greatest? The thought came to me, as I said, that no punishment could endure forever, that somewhere is the future I, even I, should meet pardon and rest. That day I found by the wayside a little child, scarcely more than a baby; it had wandered out of the poorhouse, where its mother had died the week before, a stranger passing through the village. No one knew anything about her nor cared to know, for she was almost in rags, fair and delicate once they told me, but wasted with illness and too far gone to talk. Then a second thought came to me,--expiation. I would take this forlorn little creature and bring her up as my own child, tenderly, carefully,--a life for a life. My poor old sister took to it wonderfully, it seemed to brighten her desolation into something that was almost happiness; we wandered awhile longer, and then came westward through the lakes, but it was several years before we were fairly settled here. Shadow took care of the baby and made her little dresses; then, when the time came to teach her to sew and read, she said more help was needed, and went alone to the towns below to find a fit servant, coming back in her silent way with old Orange; another stray lost out of its place in the world, and suffering from want in the cold Northern city. You must not think that Silver is totally ignorant; Shadow had the education of her day, poor thing, for ours was a good old family as old families go in this new country of ours, where three generations of well-to-do people constitute aristocracy. But religion, so called, I have not taught her. Is she any the worse for its want?
'I will teach her,' said Waring, passing over the question (which was a puzzling one), for the new idea, the strange interest he felt in the task before him, the fair pure mind where his hand, and his alone, would be the first to write the story of good and evil.
'That I should become attached to the child was natural,' continued old Fog; 'but God gave it to me to love her with so great a love that my days have flown; for her to sail out over the stormy water, for her to hunt through the icy woods, for her to dare a thousand deaths, to labor, to save, to suffer,--these have been my pleasures through all the years. When I came home, there she was to meet me, her sweet voice calling me father, the only father she could ever know. When my poor old sister died, I took her away in my boat by night and buried her in deep water; and so I did with the boy we had here for a year or two, saved from a wreck. My darling knows nothing of death; I could not tell her.'
'And those wrecks,' said Waring; 'how do you make them balance with your scheme of expiation?'
The old man sat silent a moment; then he brought his hand down violently on the table by his side. 'I will not have them brought up in that way, I tell you I will not! Have I not explained that I was desperate?' he said in an excited voice. 'What are one or two miserable crews to the delicate life of my beautiful child? And the men had their chances, too, in spite of my lure. Does not every storm threaten them with deathly force? Wait until you are tempted, before you judge me, boy. But shall I tell you the whole? Listen, then. Those wrecks were the greatest sacrifices, the most bitter tasks of my hard life, the nearest approach I have yet made to the expiation. Do you suppose I wished to drown the men? Do you suppose I did not know the greatness of the crime? Ah, I knew it only too well, and yet I sailed out and did the deed! It was for her,--to keep her from suffering; so I sacrificed myself unflinchingly. I would murder a thousand men in cold blood, and bear the thousand additional punishments without a murmur throughout a thousand ages of eternity, to keep my darling safe and warm. Do you not see that the whole was a self-immolation, the greatest, the most complete I could make? I vowed to keep my darling tenderly. I have kept my vow; see that you keep yours.'
The voice ceased, the story was told, and the teller gone. The curtain over the past was never lifted again; but often, in after years, Waring thought of this strange life and its stranger philosophy. He could never judge them. Can we?
The next day the talk turned upon Silver. 'I know you love her,' said the old man, 'but how much?'
'Does it need the asking?' answered Waring with a short laugh; 'am I not giving up my name, my life, into her hands?'
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