DETMOLD'S letter reached Alice at Geneva, after a roundabout transit of some three weeks. It was successively forwarded to and detained a little at each of the points where she had paused in her journey. Her party had gone to Trieste from Venice, and afterwards into the Tyrol.
Miss Lonsdale brought the missive, among others, from the bureau of the hotel, with a sprightly air: “ A loveletter, my dear! ”
“ Oh, no, indeed; nobody likes me well enough to take so much trouble.”
“Ah, I fear the fault is with you. We must make you return somebody’s liking. I want you to marry, dear,” she said, caressingly.
“ You will be happier.”
Alice was agitated and much reassured at the sight of the familiar handwriting. She read and re-read the letter, and let it fall with supine hands into her lap, — lost in reverie. Sad as was the recital, it was an infinite relief from the suspicions with which she had been troubled. It was a story of frailty atoned for by a heroic expiation. As to Detmold himself, he was involved in nothing but a conventional disgrace; he, at least, had committed no crime. The death of Castelbarco and this history were almost her first initiation into an acquaintance with the profounder afflictions. She was deeply impressed. She asked herself, as gravely as had Detmold, why these other lives were sombre and full of tumultuous passion while her own had been all brightness and unbroken calm. Detmold seemed full of generous instincts, and far more worthy of happiness than herself. She found nothing culpable in him except his concealment, his want of ingenuousness in this single matter. The blame she should have visited upon him for it was disarmed by his vehement devotion to herself. It was to an orderly, routine demonstration of regard preceding marriage, as has been said, that, Alice had been accustomed to look forward. She had even shrunk a little from the idea of any excessive admiration, through a want of confidence in her own merits, an apprehension of the unpleasantness of the time when it should be disillusioned in the future. But she found it, in spite of herself, strangely sweet. This extravagance of sentiment, this despair, this reckless affection, fascinated her.
Yet neither by this letter nor by any other considerations which she had in the mean time entertained was the general conclusion at which she had arrived, at the moment of the disclosure, overthrown, namely, that all was at an end between them. She took it, somehow, for granted that the revelation that had been made separated them, irrespective of any power of hers to help it. The pride of her family, her dependence upon them, the necessity of doing as the world does, — all the circumstances of her situation, and even the self-abasement of Detmold, which would make it useless to attempt to convey to him any happiness unless he were first raised in his own esteem, seemed to make a union impossible.
It would hardly be fair upon this to condemn Alice as selfish and heartless. She was by nature distrustful of romantic sentiment, and she was not at this moment nor at any former stage of the affair possessed by a passion corresponding to that of Detmold,—reckless of consequences. It was still subject to calculation and control. The conviction that it must he laid aside could cause pangs of regret and seasons of melancholy, but it had in it nothing of despair.
For the first time in any similar matter—she could not say why— Alice took the letter to her father instead of to a mother of extensive experience and powers of management. She found him in his room, which commanded the lake, and the new-born Rhone, where it is spanned by the broad and handsome iron bridge. Before giving him the writing she recounted briefly the scene at the fête, the proposal of Castelbarco, and the accusation hurled forth by him in his jealous rage, which had caused Detmold such extreme distress.
“ Ah, conspirator! You have acquired a true Italian genius for intrigue. Why did you tell us nothing of this while we were wondering what had become of Mr. Detmold when he disappeared so mysteriously? ”
“ The subject was full of painful associations. I did not wish to speak of it. Besides, I could not have done so without giving greater publicity to those cruel statements.”
“ Well,let us see this famous letter.”
As his eye followed down its pages in a quick perusal, he uttered an exclamation of surprise and looked strangely at Alice. Her back was towards him. She stood at the window looking meditatively across at the little steamers, the clustered buildings climbing to the square towers of the cathedral, the long ridge of the Grand Saleve behind them, and the snowy peak of Mont Blanc, hull down, and less than some petty hillock of the neighborhood, in its leagues of distance.
“ What is it, papa? ”
He did not reply, but went on reading to the end, and even, it would seem, for a considerable time after, walking slowly up and down with the letter held up before him. He made it a pretext to gain time to collect his thoughts. Then he sat down and called Alice to him.
“ Come and sit by me, my daughter.”
Between this rugged, keen man of business, weighted with formidable cares, and this pretty woman of twenty-seven there remained an affectionate intercourse that had endured from the time she was a child. He placed his arm about her. She nestled by him, and brushed his hair a little back, critically. She said, “ You are getting quite gray, but it is going to be very becoming.”
“ I do not know, my daughter, how to proceed in a matter which fills me with an astonishment amounting to awe. There is a coincidence here that bears the aspect of a providential interposition. I shall first ask you to tell me something. Are you willing to say whether you were very much attached to this young man who is involved in so sad a history? ”
“Well, papa,” replied the young lady, with a sweet color stealing into her face, and engaging both hands with a superfluity of pains in some slight adjustment of the lappel of his coat, “I feel very sorry for him, you know, and I — we have been great friends — and he likes me. I think he does, you know, papa.”
“ It would appear so from some of his expressions,” said the man of business, dryly. “ I know nothing of what has passed between you,” he went on. “ I am perhaps to blame for my remissness, but I leave such things to your mother, who has your best interests at heart, and who is so amply competent to deal with them. I will say that what I have seen of Detmold leads me to esteem him. I have heard a good character of him, too, from others at Lakeport who know him in his business relations. He has both talent, and industry, and I should judge would succeed. In the letter he speaks of his hopes, — his former hopes, and so on. Had he ever asked you to marry him ? ”
“ Why, yes, papa— a good while ago, at Paris, before you came; and I declined — and he was very sorry — and then, afterwards, I came to know him better, and he — we — became very good friends.”
“ And you had thought, perhaps, that you might some time like him well enough to be his? ”
Alice said, softly, resting her head against his shoulder, ‘‘Yes, papa, if it pleased you.”
“ Then, Alice, what I ought to say to you must not be longer withheld. What if I should tell you that I know something already of the strange story contained in this letter? I know it to be true. The name of Detmold has more than once brought back reminiscences of my own, but I never for an instant imagined there could be a connection between this young man and a Detmold of long ago who was the partner of my illfated friend James Belford. Fortunately, perhaps, for his peace, I did not even know that he was from the West. Did he not give himself out as coming from New York ? ”
‘‘Not directly; but I think he was willing to have it understood so, since he had spent some years there engaged, in studies, before coming to Lakeport. If the mistake was made he did not gainsay it.”
“James Belford was once my dearest friend. We were playmates and schoolmates, and until he went to seek his fortune at the West, inseparable. There was nothing he would not have done for me, nor I for him. He was unfortunate in his struggle with the world — but you know the story — criminal. When I met him by chance in the great metropolis, after his departure from the scene of his fall, he was living miserably, under an assumed name. He died young and in poverty. His heartbroken wife did not long survive him.”
He paused and took one of the pretty hands of Alice caressingly in both his own.
“What I am about to tell you, my dear girl,” he continued, “ will, I fear, at. first distress you; but, I trust, only for a moment. It will be succeeded and recompensed, as I hope, by lasting content. In any case I cannot doubt of my duty to speak. We are humble instruments in the hands of Providence, for some strange purpose to which we seem called upon to adjust ourselves. Alice, you know that you are not really my daughter,— my own daughter.”
“ Yes,” said Alice, tremulously, “ I know.”
“ You are ” —
“ I am Alice Leland, whom you adopted. I owe all that I have, and a thousand times more than I can ever hope to repay, to the kindness of the most generous of protectors.”
“No,” said Mr. Starfield, deeply affected, “ you are not even Alice Leland. You are Alice Belford, — the daughter of my unhappy friend who was the partner of the elder Detmold.”
“ Oh, papa, papa ! ”
Alice clutched his arm with a little spasm. It was as if she had been ruthlessly torn from her pleasant life and cast adrift upon a dark and chilling stream. The shadow of crime descended upon her. She was overcome by a great sense of isolation.
“ I was with him at the end. He did not ask it, but he looked it — and when your mother died I took you with me.”
“ Why did I never know anything of this before? ” she said, sobbing softly.
“Nothing was to be gained by it. Why should I have made you unhappy without cause? I would even have preferred, if it were possible, that you should never know yourself as other than my child. With me any distinction that there once was between you and mine was long since obliterated. Under no ordinary circumstances would I have made to you this revelation. I seem to have been driven to it by a remarkable fatality of events, and also — have I erroneously inferred it ? — by a regard for your own more complete happiness in the future.”
“ It makes me feel so lonely.”
In her preoccupation with this sudden entanglement in the mazes of crime and suffering, at which, from the outside, as if from a different plane of being, she had vaguely wondered, its contingent bearings were for the moment lost sight of. Mr. Starfield suffered the current of her reflections to flow unchecked. He feared that his perception of an ordained mysterious attraction between Alice and Detmold, to bring them together from afar, to compensate by the harmony of their union the sin and bitterness in the association of their fathers, had been premature. A match with Detmold, although he knew nothing to his disadvantage, and would not at any tune have opposed the decidedly expressed wishes of Alice, would not under ordinary circumstances have met his views of what was most desirable. If, after all, it was not to be, of which, as it seemed, there was a possibility, a slight sensation of relief would have mingled with his feelings. But then the disclosures of this interview were to be regretted, since they must have a permanently depressing effect upon Alice’s mind, with none of the compensating advantages which he had expected. Upon the whole, he was excessively puzzled.
‘ ‘ Try not to be east down, dear Alice,” said he. “ You are still our daughter, and shall never lack our tenderest care. You shall not be lonely. Everything that has been pleasant to you shall encompass you still. What I have told you no other shall ever know. As to your inclinations towards Detmold, your plans in the future, whatever they may be, — whatever seems good to you, — shall receive our sanction and approval.”
This mention brought back to Alice all that she had momentarily forgotten. She was joined to Detmold by an inscrutable decree. She rested with him under the shadow of his ancestral disgrace. It was now hers also. It seemed to join their destinies indissolubly. His features arose before her mentally as he had so often conjured up hers. She would have wished to banish their sad and dejected aspect. His sensitive and noble character, the history in which he was so lamentably, if blamelessly, involved, his foolish worship of herself, filled her with ineffable tenderness.
The distress into which she had at first been plunged gave way, in contemplating the possibilities of the future, to a sweet sense of dignity. A nobility of spirit that had hitherto for the most part lain dormant was awakened. The mission of the comforter — dearest and most fitting to woman — was open to her. She could now look forward with eagerness to being the helpmeet of her husband, to dissipating his moods of depression, to cheering him on in his struggle with the world. She saw herself appointed, as she thought, in pursuance of a far-reaching plan, to administer the concluding rites of a long expiation. Doubtless the period of sorrow was near its end. But she said: “ I know he must hate me now, I was so cold and unfeeling.”
There was another misgiving. He had looked up to her as the embodiment of perfections, social as well as all others. Her station and manner of life were possibly a tangible factor in his admiration. Now that she was touched with the stigma from the contact of which he had shrank so fearfully, — now that she too was of an inglorious parentage and dependent upon the bounty of her good friends, would there be no change in him? It remained to be seen.
The interview was long and tender. Alice obtained, although Mr. Starfield would have avoided it, the detailed story of her family. She cried over it, and he reiterated again and again his assurances of affection and continued interest. At its conclusion she gave herself up to the work of answering Detmold’s letter. Perhaps something of its purport may be divined, but it was not received for many a long day after. It strayed about from place to place, and reached him at last covered with postmarks and strange indorsements, too late to have any bearing upon the events of this narrative.
Meanwhile Detmold, awaiting at Trasimene an answer — though it should be a cold and formal one — that never came, found in this neglect an unmistakable assurance of hardness and contempt. A fit of indignation took him. He fell into a rage with the injustice of destiny, as though it were now for the first time that he discovered it. As if he had natural rights which Providence could infringe upon, he set himself to complain bitterly of his injuries. Has not every man his own life to live? Has he not the consequences of his own sins and follies and omissions?— and heavy enough they are. Why should the guilt of any other — relative, parent, it mattered not who or how near — be suffered to work attainder upon him? When suggestions of his early religious training came to him, and tried to whisper resignation in the well-worn maxims with which he had once been content, he said savagely, “ No, all is not for the best; all is for the worst.”
His anger did not spare Alice. She too should have recognized this injustice. She should have been considerate and noble; but instead she lent herself to be the most cruel minister of the Moloch of destiny which punishes the innocent for the guilty.
This indignation served as a tonic. It braced up his energies, — with a cynical, malignant tenseness, it is true, but yet so effectually as to render him again useful to himself. He was weary of moping and longed for action. He came down from his hill city to the great artery, and was absorbed again into the fervid circulation of the world he had left. He betook himself to Venice. For Verona, the dim, rich city of his early admiration, he conceived an aversion amounting to loathing. He could not bear to set foot in it. He caused his effects, lying since his departure in his empty chamber at the Grazzini palace, to be forwarded to him.
He went about his work with a kind of ferocity. He made his drawings with quick, nervous strokes, stopping little to delight in the delicious melting of colors, or to muse over the memories of the past. What cared he for Doges and Councilors of Ten, the splendid state of the grandees of painting, for hapless queens of Cyprus, or captives in the dungeons of ducal prisons, for ruined hopes of the remote past, when his own were so sharp and real and present? He floated in a black, steel-prowed gondola up the vistas of the narrower water-ways and among the stately structures of the Grand Canal, too often given over to common uses. He noted how signally the effect of dignity and decorum in life is bound up with the plebeian virtues of neatness and scrupulous attention. Without, them, palaces incrusted with ornaments could be even squalid. In a remote quarter of dilapidated Murano there was one that especially pleased him. It was of the best age, of red brick and precious marbles, but sordid clothing and utensils swung from its balconies and lofty portal. Coarse freights of hay and wood were unloaded at the water staircase and piled in the frescoed chambers. The domicile of his own existence, he said, fantastically in search of analogies, was similar—despoiled of the fair manner of life that should have graced it, and degraded to ignoble uses.
He passed, now and then, a private gondola, with oarsmen in white having broad silk hat-bands and scarfs of scarlet and yellow, with a Venetian dame within, reading or languidly waving her fan. In front of his apartment on the Riva Schiavoni lay always some fishingboats with colored sails and painted belts of ornament. From his window at night he could see the moonlight streaming over the lagoons. When he sometimes awoke, far into the morning, to hear from a passing gondola voices singing to the music of a guitar, the faded city became for a moment the Venice of imagination.
The August heat was parching, but he swam every day at the Lido or the floating baths, and managed to endure it. At one of these places he met the artist Gilderoy, who was still endeavoring to make sail upon his phantom ships of Tarshish, and heard from him of the death of Castelbarco. It was the first circumstance that aroused him from the useless contemplation of himself.
THE CHANCES OF AN ALPINE PASS.
The death of Castelbarco made a profound but not very lasting impression upon Hyson. He had not lost an intimate friend, and no long-established trains of habit were broken. He assisted at the formal obsequies at Verona. There were in public no excessive manifestations of grief on the part of either of the parents. Perhaps there was a measure of consolation in the coming to the front of the remaining son, the student from Padua, He was a sagacious, proud young man, and, to his mother’s view, at least, all that Antonio was not.
Our light-hearted friend mused, as the custom is in the face of such afflictions, upon the transitoriness of human affairs. How easily it might have been he instead of Castelbarco, who was tucked away so quietly under-ground, with the world moving on just as usual above him! He speculated upon the various theories he knew of concerning that great hereafter in which, if it were indeed his own case, he should now be playing some misty sort of a part. He determined to give the whole matter his fullest consideration at some future time. At present it was baffling, and by degrees he dropped it.
No word of Detmold had yet been received except a brief note at his lodgings, with directions about the care of his effects. Hyson concluded that he felt lonely, and made up his mind to go and take a vacation in Switzerland, where he knew he should fall in with acquaintances. He fell in almost immediately with a very agreeable acquaintance. It was Emilia. He met her at Stresa. She had joined her Milan master and his wife, who were continuing the instruction of a portion of their class during the vacation at this pretty port on Lake Maggiore. He hung about for a few days, and saw as much of the attractive young girl as he could under a strict though somewhat overtaxed supervision.
He walked with her on the veranda of a hotel which looked off upon the Borromean Islands, the blue water, and bluer mountains. There are villas with white walls and red roofs. Over the portal of one of them is a motto of Horace, from the verse in which he inscribes his moderate wishes: “Hoc erat in votis.” On the beach are women washing, under the striped awnings that shade their roller platforms. “ This is the panorama business,” he said, “ without any discount.”
They spoke of the terrible scene they had lately witnessed together. Emilia shuddered with something of her original terror, and prayed fervently that she might ever be protected from another such sight. Hyson ingratiated himself with the professor by complimenting his English. As an American he was perhaps accorded a little more freedom than had he been of another nationality, He was even invited to join in an evening rowing party. Emilia, with her shapely head thrown back, under the white radiance of the moon, sang songs of surpassing sweetness. The pretty and ingenuous young girl had made a winning impression upon him. He preferred her to a number of society belles he could have named from his wide acquaintance. She manifested a frank liking for him, also, and did not affect to conceal her regret when he was going away. From this time he began to send her back as mementoes little articles picked up in his travels. She responded in occasional notes of thanks quaintly expressed.
Hyson flitted from place to place. He saw the Starfields at Geneva and learned the date when they were going to make an excursion through the Bernese Oberland. Towards the time, he set out thither himself from the side of Lucerne. One evening he walked into the hotel at the Baths of Rosenlaui, and found Detmold sitting there, with a careworn expression.
“ Hal-lo, long-lost stranger!” said he in astonishment. Then, more gayly, “ You have a pretty account to give of yourself, I promise you.”
His idea was that they should sit down at once to dinner and have a square, old-fashioned talk. But Detmold was not found solicitous for an old-fashioned talk, or scarcely for talk of any kind. He had supposed, in fact, that his story in his absence would be bandied about from one to another. It would come to Hyson as well as the rest, and from him, too, he should meet with coldness and disdain. That it did not prove so at present disconcerted him; but he had no flippant theory ready to account for his movements, and he took refuge in reserve. He heard Hyson’s account of the tragic fate of Castelbarco, and speculations as to whether it could have been remorse or some other trouble that had caused his singular conduct, with little . comment. When he learned that the Starfields were possibly to be encountered on this very route, he had an impulse to go back. Then he determined not to be turned out of his course. She had made him all the trouble she was going to. He supposed one had a right to travel on a public highway. He told Hyson he was going into Germany, and should probably sail for home before a great while. The latter desisted from inquiries, which he saw were unwelcome. During their next day’s journey together along the zigzag foot-path of this delightful region, he confined himself to general topics or his own affairs.
Two days later the pair might have been discovered detained by stress of weather at the Little Scheideck. It is a resting point on the narrow ridge between the Jungfrau and Lauberhorn, and commands a glorious backward view over the valley of Grindelwald. It had rained and snowed for nearly forty-eight hours. Fogs, of the consistency of locomotive smoke, puffed against the glass, and twirled heavily among the grass blades in the few feet of foreground, which at other moments a sunbeam touched with a furtive, yellow radiance. The paths were slippery from melting snow mingling with their clay. In the intermissions of an icy wind the air was tepid as on a day of January thaw in New England. The fires smoked and added to the discomfort of Hyson, already oppressed for lack of his out-ofdoor exercise. Detmold, instead of being a relief to him, remained mostly by himself, reading, and gave him a sense of being disagreeably rebuffed. The only other travelers confined with him were a French-speaking artist from Geneva, and a gray-bearded English botanist, as garrulous as Polonius. The painter was a sufficient adept in Alpine weather to take his delay philosophically. The botanist was glad of it as an opportunity to put his collections in order.
“ You have probably seen my communication, in the last Swiss Times, using up ‘ Veritas,’ ” said the botanist, as the young man paused a moment beside him in his uneasy wandering up and down.
“Was that yours?” he exclaimed, affecting an intense interest as a distraction, though he knew nothing of Veritas, and almost as little of the Swiss Times.
“Yes, the impudence of him! To deny that Epimidium Alpinum is found in England! I can bring him to a spot in Cumberland where it is to be had in cart-loads. But he is an ignorant dog. I have had a tussle with him before, if it be the fellow I think it is. He claimed that Cyperus fuscus is not an annual.”
“Heavens! no?” said Hyson.
“ He did.”
But his listener, already bored, moved on to the window. He brought his field glass. The glittering Jungfrau showed through momentary displacements of the mists, as if they were riven by silvery lightnings.
“ There are compensations,” said the painter good-naturedly, joining him; “for instance, we have no dust.”
Towards four o’clock the weather partially cleared. The flowers, the verdure, the red chalets, the glaciers and falling cataracts of the valley, showed with tender freshness. The slopes close at hand rose spotless white, the stains and debris of their mighty erosions hidden by the new-fallen snow.
Travelers were seen coming up from the side of Lauterbrunnen. There were a lady arid gentleman on horseback, and a guide in dirt-colored clothes trudged heavily with his shoes full of water, leading the lady’s horse.
“Now things will be decently lively,” said Hyson, as he watched their approach. They were the arrivals he had been expecting, — Alice and her father. He hurried down to welcome them.
There was mud upon the young lady’s small boots, and the blue cloak with black frogs in which she was enveloped was very wet. It had a hood, drawn over the head during the journey, to the detriment of the feather of her hat, but now lowered and forming a cowl-like background to her charming face. There were beads of moisture in the braids of her hair, and its light filaments, that usually floated, hung limp upon her damp but rosy cheeks.
“ Oh, we never had such a soaking in our lives!” said she. “Please do not look at us till we go and lay aside our bathing costumes.”
They were shaking and stamping off the wet, and the host was offering his hospitalities. Alice was giving little renovating taps with a thumb and forefinger to the ill-used feather. Detmold came in. He had been trying to snatch a few moments’ exercise on the other side of the plateau, with an umbrella and overshoes. He had seen the horses led away, but had no suspicion who had arrived. It was preposterous to think of her being out in such weather, and by another day he would be over the pass.
His eye rested for a second upon the group with the cursory glance one gives to strangers, then flashed with astonished recognition. He had not considered what he should do if he met her. Indeed, it had hardly appeared that he should ever meet her again, all being irremediably over, even to their ever seeing or hearing of each other. He took off his hat distantly, and was going to pass by. But Mr. Starfleld stepped forward and cordially gave him his hand. Alice offered hers. Their eyes met. His were impassive; in hers there almost seemed something like reproach, —but that was incredible.
“ We were yawning ourselves to death,” said Hyson. “You have no idea what a godsend you are.”
“ So you have been here for some time. I thought that perhaps Mr. Detmold had just arrived.” She turned kindly to him. “ Then you escaped this wretched storm? ”
“Not entirely,” he answered. “It overtook us with some severity before we reached here, — the evening before last.”
“ We overtook it, rather, as I think,” said Hyson. “ These Alpine storms are very local. This one, probably, belongs on the mountain and nowhere else. Perhaps we could walk out of it if we chose, just as we walked into it.”
“ It belongs to Lauterbrunnen at least, as we can bear witness,” said Alice. “ It has rained there for three days. We were so tired of waiting that we determined to come to - day, anyhow. The guides said it was likely to clear up, and it really was not very' bad at starting.”
“ Well, it has, you see.”
“ Oh, yes, so opportunely, — just as we were under cover and out of it! ”
When Alice came down, after half an hour’s delay, in dry garments, the two young men were sitting at one end of a long dining-table, which served between meals for miscellaneous purposes. At the other end the cloth was being laid. Her dress was of a substantial kind calculated for rough usage, but not entirely free from certain coquetries. Her hair was now smooth. She wore little golden ear-rings in the shape of bells. Perhaps across the colossal purpose of Detmold to keep his thoughts austerely free of her may have come a fancy of the bleak stone hostelry, inclosing this charming figure, as a sturdy weather-beaten jewelcase. She entered hesitatingly. Hyson precipitated himself to place a chair for her.
The conversation went on chiefly between those two. Detmold replied in scarcely more than monosyllables to the overtures in his direction. How could she come there and talk flippant trifles to him! Were they going to sit and play with straws in the belt devastated by a tornado? He looked at her with a sense of immeasurable distance. The orbit in which she moved henceforth seemed almost a subject for telescopic researches, like that of a planet.
At dinner the discourse was confined to neutral topics. Reminiscences of all kinds were avoided, even by Hyson, who now had clearly defined suspicions. Still he hardily ventured the observation on the Alpine weather that it was like lovers and love-making.
“ There is altogether too much coyness and moping,” said he, “ when a little effusion is the thing most in demand, and a reckless prodigality of attentions when one is too disgusted to care anything about them.”
Alice was full of animation. Detmold confessed, with miserable pangs, that she had never been more seductive. She told of their adventures coming up the mountain. They had stopped in a chalet to get warm. The fire was of green sticks, and made her cough. There was a little child there with a marmotte, she said. “ I made her sing me a song, and I was afraid she would hug the poor little animal to death, in her embarassment. How did it go? Let me see — Ah — ah — a —
La marmotte en vie ?
Ah, donnez qneuque chose a Javotte
Pour sa marmotte en vie.' ”
Detmold found himself drawn into the conversation in spite of himself. It was managed with a delicate persistency. He was deferred to and appealed to in such ways that he could not have avoided it without incivility. The eyes of Alice were turned to him with an appearance of interest that was of course an optical illusion. Naturally all this was but a polite effort to conceal for the moment the deep impression which the revelations concerning him had made.
At the conclusion of the repast the company dispersed variously. Hyson thought of making a purchase from the good-natured painter, and went to examine his portfolios to see what it should be. Mr. Starfield allowed himself to be captured by the loquacious naturalist. Whether by accident or design, ample opportunities were open to Detmold to be alone with Alice. He took no advantage of them, but went and stood by the window in a small reception room whither the botanist and his listener had repaired, and where a merry party of German tourists — later arrivals — were waiting to be summoned to a supplementary meal.
The sun was setting coldly. There were again dashes of rain against the panes. The wind sighed as drearily about the corners of the rugged building that evening of August as in late November at Lakeport. The chattering tourists flocked away, at a signal, to their dinner.
“ The landlord has some fossil specimens illustrating this very point,” said the naturalist. “ Shall we step and see them for a moment? ” and he carried off his listener, leaving Detmold alone. His pain, dulled by time and absence, was renewed in something like its original intensity. This useless meeting, he reflected, was all that was needed to exhaust upon him every resource of a malicious fate. Presently there was a light rustle, and turning he saw Alice.
“ Pardon,” said she, “ I was looking for papa. I thought I heard him talking here. ”
‘‘He was here a moment ago, and I think meant to return.”
“I hope I do not intrude. I will wait for him. I see you are looking at the weather. Shall we have more rain tomorrow? ”
“ I am a poor weather prophet,” said he, making way for her at the window, sorely puzzled.
Could it be, now, that she was good after all, capable of estimating his ease with a measure of sympathy? But no, or she would have written. It is but a few days from Trasimene to Geneva; there had been the fullest allowance for delays. No; this was but her whim, to amuse herself in the absence of a more engrossing occupation. In this way he set up between himself and every favorable suggestion the morbid sensitiveness which, instead of any actual maltreatment by the world, had been his bane through life.
“ Do you not think it a rather strange coincidence that we should arrive here from opposite directions almost at the same time? ” she began.
“It seems somewhat so,” he replied stiffly.
It was evident that there was to be, by her desire, some sort of an explanation. He did not wish for any. No explanation except such a one as he had persuaded himself was hopelessly out of the question, namely, that she loved him and might still be his, could be of any avail.
They looked out upon the dismal prospect in silence. Detmold thought of that idyllic afternoon upon the hill-side at Torri. Far greater than the dissimilarity of the two scenes was the difference between the happy future then seeming to open before him and that he now darkly contemplated. The interview, with such a disposition on one side, did not progress easily.
“ This mountaineering seems to me very severe,” she ventured again. “ And you, how do you stand it? Do you never take cold? ” It was said almost caressingly, as though it were of consequence whether he did or not. What deliberate torture! He had an impulse to go away and leave her standing there. But he said, No, he was used to knocking about. The elements inconvenienced him very little.
“It was the greatest surprise, you know, to find you here,” she persevered, struggling with a consciousness of excessive inaneness.
“I am not going to remain. I was not intending to. I shall go down the mountain in the morning.”
“ Oh, I did not mean that we were not glad to see you. I am sure you did not think I meant that. Only — we — did not know where you were.”
“I — wrote a letter from Trasimene,” he replied, huskily. The explanation had begun. In what would it end?
“ Yes, we — papa — that is, I received your letter. It was much delayed. I replied to it at once.”
“You replied? But no reply ever reached me.”
His reserve was beginning to be thawed by wonder and dimly suggested possibilities. He debated how to ask her what had been its purport.
“You would not exactly care to — You probably don’t entirely recollect just what ” —
“Why, certainly. I said, you know, that— Of course the precise words — I think I have a copy among my baggage somewhere. It got blotted just after it was finished, and I happened to keep it. I will go and get, it. I would like to have you see — I am so sorry you did not get it, because you must have thought ” — And she went away in search of it.
It did not seem to be a work of difficulty. No sooner had she reached her chamber than she held up her dainty skirt with one hand, felt in a pocket in the folds of it, and produced it. She read it, straightened a cheap lithograph on the wall, drummed on the bureau, read it again, smoothed her hair, opened and shut her satchel twice, rang the bell, and sent the missive down by a servant. Then she went and listened with rapt attention to the tiresome botanist, and avoided the place where Detmold was until she was obliged to accompany her father and other people thither.
It was not much of a letter, but if you had brought all the most treasured manuscripts of Christendom to Detmold to exchange for it you would have had them left on your hands. It was dated Geneva, the 8th of August. It read : —
DEAR MR. DETMOLD, — Your letter of July 16th has only just been received, having been forwarded from place to place, owing to my frequent changes of address. I regret the delay so much, as my apparent neglect to reply must have seemed very strange. I am extremely pained by the tone of unhappiness that pervades it. I do not think it is warranted by the facts. I am sure that there is nothing in them to reflect discredit upon you personally, if all were known. I think this would be the opinion of all those, at least, whose opinions are of any value. Circumstances have happened quite recently to make the story of a special interest to me even apart from your connection with it.
[This reference was all she permitted herself to the revelation of her parentage. It was a compromise between an impulse to relate the whole and a decision to await the opportunity of a meeting, if it should then seem desirable. Detmold read and re-read the sentence without arriving at any solution of its meaning.]
We are shortly to start for a little trip over the Wengern Alp, but our address is always kept at the bank in the Petite Corraterie. Do you not find Central Italy very warm in summer? Papa has read your letter, and his views coincide with mine. The respect and esteem he has entertained for you are not diminished. Sincerely your friend,
Detmold was now burning to speak to her; but, though sending him an occasional glance, which was not forbidding, across the room, she gave him no opportunity. His moroseness gave place to an immoderate enthusiasm. He made an extraordinary virtue of her action in this matter. She was all of generous and noble in nature that he had ever dreamed. Yes, it was proved. But Alice, having been forced by his obduracy to go so far, — lengths of which she would not have believed herself capable, —was afflicted with trepidation. In the pretty game of flight and chase which love is, it was she who was again the fugitive.
The company were invited to the dining-room; a clever German gentleman had volunteered to amuse them with impersonations, They were moving thither in a body, Alice with the rest. But Detmold, lingering, managed to intercept her, and asked for a word.
“ But — this is to be very entertaining. The ladies say he is a real genius. We ought not to miss it. ”
“ A moment — just a moment, Miss Alice.”
“ Well —but” —
“ I want to say what a very kind letter it is. I thought you were coming back. I have read it twenty times.”
“It is not kind; it is only just.”
“ And you have neither the disdain nor fear of me I dreaded? ”
“ Why, of course not! ”
“ Stay —yet a moment. Your letter was perhaps just, but it was also noble. It was worthy of you. I know,” he continued, hesitatingly, “ that I ought to be satisfied with justice, and that I am infatuated to think of more. But because I am infatuated, because I find in it a renewed pretext for presumption, because justice and esteem and friendship are of scarcely more worth to me than aversion without — your love, I am going on to ask for it once more, to ask if it may not be possible that this great happiness is yet in store for me.”
He turned towards her, and his face was full of tenderness.
She cast her eyes down, and, with a charming pretense of pouting and still making a movement to go, said, in a voice that assumed an injured tone, “ I am sure, I do not think one ought to make all the advances. I ” —
But even while she hesitated and complained her lover put his arm about her, and it was completed. Her head rested against his shoulder with a delicious yielding. The countless invisible filaments of attraction that had floated between them were knit in this moment and intertwisted beyond the possibility of rupture.
“ What an insufferable idiot I was! ” he exclaimed, raising both her hands to his lips. “I could knock my head against the wall. Yon were actually making love to me, and I repulsed you.”
“ What must you think of me? ” she returned.
“ Nobody was ever lifted before from such distress to such a happiness,” said Detmold. “ I cannot credit that after it all I am really to have so sweet and noble a wife.”
The words revived a memory that had been strangely forgotten in the agitation of these moments. She disengaged herself with an earnest, even sad demeanor.
“ Why did I not tell you,” she said, “what was already upon my tongue? It is I who have a secret now, and perhaps it is your turn to shrink from me. But you must hear it. I too have an inherited disgrace. It is much heavier than yours, because it was never relieved by any such admirable atonement. ”
“ Ah! you are trying to imagine something to keep me in countenance; but it is not necessary. Once I know that you love me, you shall see how self-satisfied I am going to be.”
“No, really and truly,” protested Alice.
“Well, then,—inherited disgrace? Come on — what next? The reputation of your family is spotless. How— But make me no confessions. You are what you are; what do I care for anything besides? ”
“ My father was involved in guilt very similar to that of yours. It is what I referred to in my note. Did you know it? ”
“ Your father? I do not understand. Is not Mr. Stanfield your father? — one of the most upright of men? ”
“ Only by virtue of his own goodness of heart. I am an adopted daughter. You knew that? ”
“ I recall that I had dimly heard it. But what does it matter? Do not distress yourself with vexatious reminiscences, I beg.”
“ It does matter. Do you know who my father was? I myself had never learned until after the receipt of your letter. He was — James Bedford, the partner in your father’s crime.”
“Oh, wonderful!” cried Detmold, his hands clasped in a sort of exaltation. “ Now you are indeed mine. Now we are indeed united.”
He would have drawn her to him, but she still kept him gently at a little distance.
“ Take care,’ ’ she said; " are you sure that you love me now—with nothing — after such a history? It is worse for a woman, you know.”
“ You have everything,” said the young man, passionately. “ You are perfect ! ”
“ Oh, how joyful it is,” concludes, in her most stirring work, a writer who ensnares our interest with apparitions and abductions and mortal combats, with pictures of virtue and vice as strongly contrasted as the Cimmerian dungeons and banqueting halls of light in which they are enacted, “to tell of happiness such as that of Valancourt and Emily; to relate that, after suffering under the oppression of the vicious and the disdain of the weak, they were at length restored to each other, to the beloved landscapes of their country, to the securest felicity of this life! Oh, useful may it be to have shown that though the vicious can sometimes pour afflictions upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune! ”
Useful indeed! But yet more useful would it be to show how the good might remain always and unalterably good, and deserve and be subjected to no inconveniences but those attributable to the machinations of the wicked. How simple were both life and books could they but be accurately summarized under the clear - cut moralities of the good Mrs. Radeliffe! But it is not to draw attention to a novel proposition to insist a little more that the poison flower of unmitigated depravity is of rare growth; and just as rare the white blossom of immaculate innocence. Inherited traits, social conventionalities, exposure to unavoidable contingencies, are in these days of comparative quiet, at least, the chief agencies through which destiny, overhanging like a vast atmosphere, exerts its pressure upon every square inch of human endeavor. It has not been deemed obligatory in this narrative to show the wicked exalted and the good cast down, nor indeed vice versa. The motives of both Detmold and Alice have been confessedly mixed; and would it be just to esteem Castelbarco wholly a villain? His ill-regulated passion, the misery of Detmold, the calm melancholy of Miss Lonsdale, seem hardly to need an explanation outside of the constitution of human affairs for which individuals are little responsible.
In spite of the view which would make nothing true to life but disappointment and a jangling of cross-purposes, it is not certain that it will be indefensible now, in the end, to trace to our personages a measure of the good fortune of Valancourt and Emily. Happiness, though rarer, is not less realistic than misery. It is perhaps the business of the romancer to seek out those instances in which it especially prevails, and to present them as a relief, a species of redress of grievances, from the more ordinary course of affairs. It does not remain to tell, therefore, that Detmold returns to Lakeport to struggle and despond over a renewal of an architectural practice that never was established, while his betrothed grows old and fades, and becomes set and finical in character, waiting for a success that may never come. Nor would a further indebtedness to the generous man to whom Alice already owed so much be tolerable.
It remains to tell that the agitating news of the death of Detmold’s father was received soon after the events last narrated. He died and was buried with honor in the community where he had sinned and suffered. His estate was found to be of considerable value. A keen remorse mingled with Detmold’s sorrow for his loss. His long abandonment of him, now that it was too late to atone for it, seemed move than ever shameful. He accepted with some misgiving the fortune that made his union with Alice possible; she shared in his regrets. She had cherished a wish to do something for the declining years of a character which she looked upon as cast in a heroic mold.
Within a seemly time the wedding took place, at Geneva. It was the fancy of both to make their bridal tour to Verona. They alighted again at the Torre d’Oro al gran Parigi, and visited all the familiar places. His apartment and the bridge where he had stood on that miserable night of the disclosure were not forgotten.
Oh, the strange sweetness to Detmold of those first days together! Was indeed this proud and flower-like beauty his at last? He recalled her as he had first known her, and at the time when there had seemed such an impassable gulf between them. A too vivid recollection could almost at moments cause a renewal of his old timidity before her.
She assumed little airs of proprietorship. She took an interest in his pronunciation of French, in his preferences of the table, in his dress. She said, “You must always brush your hair up a little in front. It is more in keeping with your style of forehead.” Each time that she pronounced his name,— Louis, — it was like a caress.
She had received the shadow upon her life very sweetly. It gave her gravity and insight. It developed latent, more precious qualities, as the beauty of shells and pebbles is developed by a wave that draws a darker margin around them on the sand. The ancestral disgrace, so shared, had nothing any longer chilly or forbidding. Perhaps it may rather have seemed to them like one of the rich planes of shadow in the piazzas of Verona, a spot of refuge in a too gairish sunlight.
Neither could look upon their union as an ordinary marriage. They saw in it the end of a mysterious cycle, the close of a long act of expiation, perhaps a sign that, in the great adjustment of values of good and evil, the guilt followed by such bitter consequences was made as if it had never been. Their fathers were associated together for ignominy; they believed themselves given to each other for honor and happiness.
Is it, then, intended to present this young man, who has simply moped through life endeavoring to avoid an unpleasant. situation, who has accomplished nothing, that we are apprised of, except to marry a beautiful wife who is presumably also an heiress, as an especially admirable person?
He is presented simply for what he is; there are both better and worse. If it, were legitimate to try to arouse an interest in him for what he may be rather than for what he has been, it might be said as a favorable indication for his future that he cherishes a high ideal; prosperity does not diminish his diligence or render him more easily content with his own achievements. The effect of continued unhappiness and straitened circumstances is not less dwarfing than that of unvaried ease. Detmold has had the broadening experience of both. It would seem that he is at least likely to rise to eminence in the profession he has chosen and exert an important influence upon his section.
The Paradise Valley is not yet irrigated in accordance with the views of its sanguine proprietor. It is found that private enterprise in California, as in Italy, must be preceded by a comprehensive system of public works. But any of us may note that interest in the subject is growing. A survey of the great central plain has been ordered, and reports printed, and his flowering meads and orchards, backed by a little Golconda, are by no means an improbability of the future. Meanwhile he has other projects, and does not lack for employment. Our friends at Lakeport often see him in his flying journeys between the East and the West.
“ I fear we shall never have you married,” Alice has said to him, smiling at some flippant reflection upon womankind.
“Do not despair,” he has replied. “ Wait until we observe how my little prima donna turns out.”
“ You still hear from Emilia, then?”
“ She is coming to this country. She has lately sent me her picture.”
“ How does she look? ”
“ As pretty as red shoes.”
W. H. Bishop.