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HELEN'S act was strange, and demands a word of explanation. If she had thought the steamboat was a strange vessel, she would have lighted the bonfire; if she had known her father was on board, she would have lighted it with joy. But Hazel, whose every word now was gospel, had said it was Arthur Wardlaw in that boat, searching for her.
Still, so strong is the impulse in all civilized beings to get back to civilization, that she went up that hill as honestly intending to light the bonfire as Hazel intended it to be lighted. But, as she went, her courage cooled, and her feet began to go slowly, as her mind ran swiftly forward to consequence upon consequence. To light that bonfire was to bring Arthur Wardlaw down upon herself and Hazel living alone and on intimate terms. Arthur would come and claim her to his face. Could she disallow his claim? Gratitude would now be on his side as well as good faith. What a shock to Arthur! What torture for Hazel! torture that he foresaw, or why the face of anguish, that dragged even now at her heart-strings? And then it could end only in one way; she and Hazel would leave the island in Arthur's ship. What a voyage for all three! She stood transfixed by shame; her whole body blushed at what she saw coming. Then once more Hazel's face rose before her; poor crippled Hazel! her hero and her patient. She sat down and sighed, and could no more light the fire than she could have put it out if another had lighted it.
She was a girl that could show you at times she had a father as well as a mother. But that evening she was all woman.
They met no more that night.
In the morning his face was haggard, and showed a mental struggle; but hers placid and quietly beaming, for the very reason that she had made a great sacrifice. She was one of that sort.
And this difference between them was a foretaste.
His tender conscience pricked him sore. To see her sit beaming there, when, if he had done his own duty with his own hands she would be on her way to England! Yet his remorse was dumb; for, if he gave it vent, then he must seem ungrateful to her for her sacrifice.
She saw his deep and silent compunction, approved it secretly; said nothing, but smiled, and beamed, and soothed. He could not resist this; and wild thrills of joy and hope passed through him, visions of unbroken bliss far from the world.
But this sweet delirium was followed by misgivings of another kind. And here she was at fault. What could they be?
It was the voice of conscience telling him that he was really wining her love, once inaccessible; and, if so, was bound to tell her his whole story, and let her judge between him and the world, before she made any more sacrifices for him. But it is hard to stop great happiness; harder to stop it and ruin it. Every night, as he lay alone, he said, "To-morrow I will tell her all, and make her the judge." But in the morning her bright face crushed his purpose by the fear of clouding it. His limbs got strong and his heart got weak. And they used to take walks, and her head came near his shoulder. And the path of duty began to be set thicker than ever with thorns; and the path of love with primroses. One day she made him sit to her for his portrait; and, under cover of artistic enthusiasm, told him his beard was godlike, and nothing in the world could equal it for beauty. She never saw but one at all like it, poor Mr. Seaton's; but even that was very inferior to his. And then she dismissed the sitter. "Poor thing," said she, "you are pale and tired." And she began to use ornaments; took her bracelets out of her bag, and picked pearls out of her walls, and made a coronet, under which her eyes flashed at night with superlative beauty--conscious beauty brightened by the sense of being admired and looked at by the eye she desired to please.
She revered him. He had improved her character, and she knew it, and often told him so.
"Call me Hazelia," she said; "make me liker you still."
One day, he came suddenly through the jungle, and found her reading her prayer-book.
He took it from her, not meaning to be rude, neither, but inquisitive.
It was open at the marriage-service, and her cheeks were dyed scarlet.
His heart panted. He was a clergyman; he could read that service over them both.
Would it be a marriage?
Not in England; but in some countries it would. Why not in this? This was not England.
He looked up. Her head was averted; she was downright distressed.
He was sorry to have made her blush; so he took her hand and kissed it tenderly, so tenderly that his heart seemed to go into his lips. She thrilled under it, and her white brow sank upon his shoulder.
The sky was a vault of purple with a flaming topaz in the center; the sea, a heavenly blue; the warm air breathed heavenly odors; flaming macaws wheeled overhead; humming-birds, more gorgeous than any flower, buzzed round their heads, and amazed the eye with delight, then cooled it with the deep green of the jungle into which they dived.
It was a Paradise with the sun smiling down on it, and the ocean smiling up, and the air impregnated with love. Here they were both content now to spend the rest of their days--
"The world forgetting; by the world forgot."
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