"Some one whom I can court With no great change of manner, Still holding reason's fort, Tho waving fancy's banner."
Several weeks had passed since Helen had received the letter from Arthur, the girl having in the meantime settled quietly down at Oakdale She had seen few of her friends excepting Mr. Howard, who had come out often from the city.
She was expecting a visit from him one bright afternoon, and was standing by one of the pillars of the vine-covered porch, gazing up at the blue sky above her and waiting to hear the whistle of the train. When she saw her friend from the distance she waved her hand to him and went to meet him, laughing, "I am going to take you out to see my stream and my bobolink to-day. You have not seen our country yet, you know."
The girl seemed to Mr. Howard more beautiful that afternoon than he had ever known her before, for she was dressed all in white and there was the old spring in her step, and the old joy in her heart. When they had passed out of the village, she found the sky so very blue, and the clouds so very white, and the woods and meadows so very green, that she was radiantly happy and feared that she would have to sing. And she laughed:
"Away, away from men and towns, To the wild wood and the downs!"And then interrupted herself to say, "You must not care, Mr. Howard, if I chatter away and do all the talking. It has been a long time since I have paid a visit to my friends out here, and they will all be here to welcome me."
Even as Helen spoke she looked up, and there was the bobolink flying over her head and pouring out his song; also the merry breeze was dancing over the meadows, and everything about her was in motion.
"Do you know," she told her companion, "I think most of the happiness of my life has been out in these fields; I don't know what made me so fond of the country, but even when I was a very little thing, whenever I learned a new song I would come out here and sing it. Those were times when I had nothing to do but be happy, you know, and I never thought about anything else. It has always been so easy for me to be happy, I don't know why. There is a fountain of joy in my heart that wells up whether I want it to or not, so that I can always be as merry as I choose. I am afraid that is very selfish, isn't it, Mr. Howard? I am trying to be right now, you know."
"You may consider you are being merry for my sake at present," said the man with a laugh. "It is not always so easy for me to be joyful."
"Very well, then," smiled Helen; "I only wish that you had brought your violin along. For you see I always think of these things of Nature with music; when I was little they were all creatures that danced with me. These winds that are so lively were funny little fairy-men, and you could see all the flowers shake as they swept over them; whenever I heard any music that was quick and bright I always used to fancy that some of them had hold of my hands and were teaching me to run. I never thought about asking why, but I used to find that very exciting. And then there was my streamlet--he's just ahead here past the bushes--and I used to like him best of all. For he was a very beautiful youth, with a crown of flowers upon his head; there was a wonderful light in his eyes, and his voice was very strong and clear, and his step very swift, so it was quite wonderful when you danced with him. For he was the lord of all the rest, and everything around you got into motion then; there was never any stopping, for you know the streamlet always goes faster and faster, and gets more and more joyous, until you cannot bear it any more and have to give up. We shall have to play the Kreutzer Sonata some time, Mr. Howard.'
"I was thinking of that," said the other, smiling.
"I think it would be interesting to know what people imagine when they listen to music," went on Helen. "I have all sorts of queer fancies for myself; whenever it gets too exciting there is always one last resource, you can fly away to the top of the nearest mountain. I don't know just why that is, but perhaps it's because you can see so much from there, or because there are so many winds; anyway, there is a dance--a wonderfully thrilling thing, if only the composer knows how to manage it. There is someone who dances with me--I never saw his face, but he's always there; and everything around you is flying fast, and there comes surge after surge of the music and sweeps you on,--perhaps some of those wild runs on the violins that are just as if the wind took you up in its arms and whirled you away in the air! That is a most tremendous experience when it happens, because then you go quite beside yourself and you see that all the world is alive and full of power; the great things of the forest begin to stir too, the trees and the strange shapes in the clouds, and all the world is suddenly gone mad with motion; and so by the time you come to the last chords your hands are clenched and you can hardly breathe, and you feel that all your soul is throbbing!"
Helen was getting quite excited then, just over her own enthusiasm; perhaps it was because the wind was blowing about her. "Is that the way music does with you?" she laughed, as she stopped.
"Sometimes," said Mr. Howard, smiling in turn; "but then again while all my soul is throbbing I feel my neighbor reaching to put on her wraps, and that brings me down from the mountains so quickly that it is painful; afterwards you go outside among the cabs and cable-cars, and make sad discoveries about life."
"You are a pessimist," said the girl.
"Possibly," responded the other, "but try to keep your fountain of joy a while, Miss Davis. There are disagreeable things in life to be done, and some suffering to be borne, and sometimes the fountain dries up very quickly indeed."
Helen was much more ready to look serious than she would have been a month before; she asked in a different tone, "You think that must always happen?"
"Not quite always," was the reply; "there are a few who manage to keep it, but it means a great deal of effort. Perhaps you never took your own happiness so seriously," he added with a smile.
"No," said Helen, "I never made much effort that I know of."
"Some day perhaps you will have to," replied the other, "and then you will think of the creatures of nature as I do, not simply as rejoicing, but as fighting the same battle and daring the same pain as you."
The girl thought for a moment, and then asked: "Do you really believe that as a fact?"
"I believe something," was the answer, "that makes me think when I go among men and see their dullness, that Nature is flinging wide her glory in helpless appeal to them; and that it is a dreadful accident that they have no eyes and she no voice." He paused for a moment and then added, smiling, "It would take metaphysics to explain that; and meanwhile we were talking about your precious fountain of joy."
"I should think," answered Helen, thoughtfully, "that it would be much better to earn one's happiness."
"Perhaps after you had tried it a while you would not think so," replied her companion; "that is the artist's life, you know, and in practice it is generally a very dreadful life. Real effort is very hard to make; and there is always a new possibility to lure the artist, so that his life is always restless and a cruel defeat."
"It is such a life that you have lived, Mr. Howard?" asked Helen, gazing at him.
"There are compensations," he replied, smiling slightly, "or there would be no artists. There comes to each one who persists some hour of victory, some hour when he catches the tide of his being at the flood, and when he finds himself master of all that his soul contains, and takes a kind of fierce delight in sweeping himself on and in breaking through everything that stands in his way. You made me think of such things by what you said of your joy in music; only perhaps the artist discovers that not only the streamlets and the winds have motion and meaning, but that the planets also have a word for his soul; and his own being comes suddenly to seem to him a power which it frightens him to know of, and he sees the genius of life as a spirit with eyes of flame. It lifts him from his feet and drags him away, and the task of his soul takes the form of something that he could cry out to escape. He has fought his way into the depths of being at last, and lie stands alone in all his littleness on the shore of an ocean whose waves are centuries--and then even while he is wondering and full of fear, his power begins to die within him and to go he knows not how; and when he looks at himself again he is like a man who has had a dream, and wakened with only the trembling left; except that he knows it was no dream but a fiery reality, and that the memory of it will cast a shadow over all the rest of his days and make them seem trivial and meaningless. No one knows how many years he may spend in seeking and never find that lost glory again."
Mr. Howard had been speaking very intensely, and when he stopped Helen did not reply at once, but continued gazing at him. "What is the use of such moments," she asked at last, "if they only make one wretched?"
"At least one may keep the memory," he replied with a smile, "and that gives him a standard of reality. He learns to be humble, and learns how to judge men and men's glory, and the wonderful things of men's world,--so that while they are the most self-occupied and self-delighted creatures living he may see them as dumb cattle that are grazing while the sunrise is firing the hilltops."
"You have had such moments yourself?" asked Helen.
"A long time ago," said the other, smiling at the seriousness with which she spoke. "When you were telling me about your musical fancies you made me remember how once when I was young I climbed a high hill and had an adventure with a wind that was very swift and eager. At first I recollect I tried not to heed it, because I had been dull and idle and unhappy; but I found that I could not be very long in the presence of so much life without being made ashamed, and that brave windstorm put me through a course of repentance of the very sternest kind before it let me go. I tried just to promise that I would be more wide-awake and more true, but it paid not the least attention to that; and it would hear no arguments as to the consequences,--it came again and again with a furious burst, and swept me away every time I tried to think; it declared that I had been putting off the task of living my life long enough, and that I was to attend to it then and there. And when I gave myself up as demanded, it had not the least mercy upon me, and each time that I protested that I was at the end of my power it simply whirled me away again like a mad thing. When at last I came down from the hillside I had quite a new idea of what living meant, and I have been more respectful before the winds and other people of genius ever since."
Helen felt very much at home in that merry phantasy of her companion's, but she did not say anything; after a moment's waiting the other went on to tell her of something else that pleased her no less. "I remember," he said, "how as I came down I chanced upon a very wonderful sight, one which made an impression upon me that I have not forgotten. It was a thicket of wild roses; and I have always dreamed that the wild rose was a creature of the wind and fire, but I never knew so much about it before. After that day I have come seriously to believe it would be best if we prudent and timid creatures, who neither dare nor care anything for the sake of beauty,--if we simply did not ever see the wild rose. For it lives only for a day or two, Miss Davis, and yet, as I discovered then, we may live all our years and never get one such burst of glory, one such instant of exultation and faith as that. And also I seriously think that among men and all the wonderful works of men there is nothing so beautiful and so precious as that little flower that none of them heeds."
Mr. Howard glanced at the girl suddenly; she had half stopped in her walk, and she was gazing at him with a very eager look in her bright eyes. "What is it?" he asked her, and Helen exclaimed, "Oh, I am so glad you mentioned it! I had forgotten--actually forgotten!"
As her friend looked puzzled, the girl went on with her merriest laugh, "I must tell you all about it, and we shall be happy once more; for you turn down this path towards the woods, and then you must go very quietly and hold your breath, and prepare yourself just as if you were going into a great cathedral; for you want all your heart to be full of expectation and joy! It is for only about one week in the year that you may see this great sight, and the excitement of the first rapture is best of all. It would be so dreadful if you were not reverent; you must fancy that you are coming to hear a wonderful musician, and you know that he'll play for you, but you don't know just when. That's what I used to pretend, and I used to come every day for a week or two, and very early in the morning, when the dew was still everywhere and the winds were still gay. Several times you go back home disappointed, but that only makes you more eager for the next time; and when you do find them it is wonderful--oh, most wonderful! For there is a whole hedge of them along the edge of the wood; and you may be just as madly happy as you choose and never be half happy enough, because they are so beautiful!"
"These are wild roses?" asked the other, smiling.
"Yes," said Helen, "and oh, think how many days I have forgotten them, and they may have bloomed! And for three years I have not been here, and I was thinking about it all the way over on the steamer." They had come to the path that turned off to the woods, and Helen led her companion down it, still prattling away in the meantime; when they came to the edge of the woods she began walking upon tip toe, and put her fingers upon her lips in fun. Then suddenly she gave a cry of delight, for there were the roses for a fact, a whole hedge of them as she had said, glowing in the bright sun and making a wonderful vision.
The two stopped and stood gazing at them, the girl's whole soul dancing within her. "Oh do you know," she cried suddenly, "I think that I could get drunk with just looking at roses! There is a strange kind of excitement that comes over one, from drinking in the sight of their rich red, and their gracefulness and perfume; it makes all my blood begin to flow faster, and I quite forget everything else." Helen stood for a few moments longer with her countenance of joy; afterwards she went towards the flowers and knelt down in front of them, choosing a bud that was very perfect. "I always allow myself just one," she said, "just one for love," and then she bent over it, whispering softly:
"Hush,'tis the lullaby time is singing, Hush and heed not, for all things pass."She plucked it and held it up before her, while the wind came up behind her and tossed it about, and tossed her skirts; Helen, radiant with laughter, glanced at her companion, saying gaily, "You must hold it very lightly, just like this, you know, with one finger and a thumb; and then you may toss it before you and lose yourself in its perfectness, until it makes all your soul feel gracious. Do you know, Mr. Howard, I think one could not live with the roses very long without becoming beautiful?"
"That was what Plato thought," said the other with a smile, "and many other wise people."
"I only wish that they might bloom forever," said the girl, "I should try it."
Her companion had been lost in watching her, and now as she paused he said: "Sometimes, I have been happy with the roses, too, Miss Davis. Here is some music for your flower." She gazed at him eagerly, and he recited, half laughingly:
"Wild rose, wild rose, sing me thy song, Come, let us sing it together!-- I hear the silver streamlet call From his home in the dewy heather."Afterwards Helen stood for a moment in silence; then a happy idea came to her mind, and she turned towards the hedge of roses once more and threw back her head upon the wind and took a deep breath and began singing a very beautiful melody.
"Let us sing the wild dance with the mountain breeze, The rush of the mountain rain, And the passionate clasp of the glowing sun When the clouds are rent again."
"They tell us the time for the song is short, That the wings of joy are fleet; But the soul of the rose has bid me sing That oh, while it lasts 'tis sweet!"
As it swelled out Helen's joy increased until her face was alight with laughter, and very wonderful to see; she stood with the rose tossing in one of her hands, and with the other pressed upon her bosom,--"singing of summer in full-throated ease." One might have been sure that the roses knew what she was saying, and that all about her loved her for her song.
Yet the girl had just heard that the wings of joy are fleet; and she was destined to find even then that it was true. For when she stopped she turned to her companion with a happy smile and said, "Do you know what that is that I was singing?" When he said "No," she went on, "It is some wild-rose music that somebody made for me, I think. It is in the same book as the 'Water Lily' that I played you." And then in a flash the fearful memory of that evening came over the girl, and made her start back; for a moment she stood gazing at her friend, breathing very hard, and then she lowered her eyes and whispered faintly to herself, "And it was not a month ago!"
There was a long silence after that, and when Helen looked up again the joy was gone out of her face, and she was the same frightened soul as before. Her lips were trembling a little as she said, "Mr. Howard, I feel somehow that I have no right to be quite happy, for I have done nothing to make myself good." Then, thinking of her friend, she added, "I am spoiling your joy in the roses! Can you forgive me for that?" As he answered that he could, Helen turned away and said, "Let us go into the woods, because I do not like to see them any more just now."
They passed beneath the deep shadows of the trees, and Helen led Mr. Howard to the spring where she had been with Arthur. She sat down upon the seat, and then there was a long silence, the girl gazing steadfastly in front of her; she was thinking of the last time she had been there, and how it was likely that the pale, wan look must still be upon Arthur's face. Mr. Howard perhaps divined her thought, for he watched her for a long time without speaking a word, and then at last he said gently, as if to divert her attention, "Miss Davis, I think that you are not the first one whom the sight of the wild rose has made unhappy."
Helen turned and looked at him, and he gazed gravely into her eyes. For at least a minute he said nothing; when he went on his voice was much changed, and Helen knew not what to expect "Miss Davis," he said, "God has given to the wild rose a very wonderful power of beauty and joy; and perhaps the man who looks at it has been dreaming all his life that somewhere he too might find such precious things and have them for his own. When he sees the flower there comes to him the fearful realization that with all the effort of his soul he has never won the glory which the wild rose wears by Heaven's free gift; and that perhaps in his loneliness and weakness he has even forgotten all about such high perfection. So there rises within him a yearning of all his being to forget his misery and his struggling, and to lay all his worship and all his care before the flower that is so sweet; he is afraid of his own sin and his own baseness, and now suddenly he finds a way of escape,--that he will live no longer for himself and his own happiness, but that his joy shall be the rose's joy, and all his life the rose's life. Do you think, my dear friend, that that might please the flower?"
"Yes," said Helen wonderingly, "it would be beautiful, if one could do it."
The other spoke more gently still as he answered her, his voice trembling slightly: "And do you not know, Miss Davis, that God has made _you_ a rose?"
The girl started visibly; she whispered, "You say that to me, Mr. Howard? Why do you say that to _me_?"
And he fixed his dark eyes upon her, his voice very low as he responded: "I say it to you,--because I love you."
And Helen shrank back and stared at him; and then as she saw his look her own dropped lower and lower and the color mounted to her face. Mr. Howard paused for a moment or two and then very gently took one of her hands in his, and went on:
"Helen," he said,--"you must let me call you Helen--listen to me a while, for I have something to tell you. And since we both of us love the roses so much, perhaps it will be beautiful to speak of them still. I want to tell you how the man who loves the flower needs not to love it for his own sake, but may love it for the flower's; how one who really worships beauty, worships that which is not himself, and the more he worships it the less he thinks of himself. And Helen, you can never know how hard a struggle my life has been, just to keep before me something to love,--how lonely a struggle it has been, and how sad. I can only tell you that there was very little strength left, and very little beauty, and that it was all I could do to remember there was such a thing as joy in the world, and that I had once possessed it. The music that moved me and the music that I made was never your wild-rose singing, but such yearning, restless music as you heard in the garden. I cannot tell you how much I have loved that little piece that I played then; perhaps it is my own sad heart that finds such breathing passion in it, but I have sent it out into the darkness of many a night, dreaming that somewhere it might waken an echo. For as long as the heart beats it never ceases to hunger and to hope, and I felt that somewhere in the world there must be left some living creature that was beautiful and pure, and that might be loved. So it was that when I saw you all my soul was roused within me; you were the fairest of all God's creatures that I had ever seen. That was why I was so bitter at first, and that was why all my heart went out to you when I saw your suffering, and why it is to me the dearest memory of my lifetime that I was able to help you. Afterwards when I saw how true you were, I was happier than I had ever dared hope to be again; for when I went back to my lonely little home, it was no longer to think about myself and my sorrow and my dullness, but to think about you,--to rejoice in your salvation, and to pray for you in your trouble, and to wait for the day when I might see you again. And so I knew that something had happened to me for which I had yearned, oh so long and so painfully!--that my heart had been taken from me, and that I was living in another life; I knew, dear Helen, that I loved you. I said to myself long ago, before you got Arthur's letter, that I would wait for the chance to say this to you, to take your hand in mine and say: Sweet girl, the law of my life has been that all my soul I must give to the best thing that ever I know; and that thing is you. You must know that I love you, and how I love you; that I lay myself at your feet and ask to help you and watch over you and strengthen you all that I may. For your life is young and there is much to be hoped for in it, and to my own poor self there is no longer any duty that I owe. My heart is yours, and I ask for nothing but that I may love you. Those were the words that I first meant to say to you, Helen; and to ask you if it pleased you that I should speak to you thus."
Mr. Howard stopped, and after he had waited a minute, the girl raised her eyes to his face. She did not answer him, but she put out her other hand and laid it very gently in his own.
There was a long silence before the man continued; at last he said, "Dear Helen, that was what I wished to say to you, and no more than that, because I believed that I was old, and that my heart was dying within me. But oh, when that letter came from Arthur, it was as if I heard the voice of my soul crying out to me that my life had just begun, that I had still to love. As I came out here into the forest with you to-day, my soul was full of a wondrous thought, a thought that brought more awe and rapture than words have power to tell; it was that this precious maiden was not made to be happy alone, but that some day she and all her being would go out to someone, to someone who could win her heart, who could love her and worship her as she deserved. And my soul cried out to me that _I_ could worship you; the thought wakened in me a wilder music than ever I had heard in my life before. Here as I kneel before you and hold your hands in mine, dear Helen, all my being cries out to you to come to me; for in your sorrow your heart has been laid bare to my sight, and I have seen only sweetness and truth. To keep it, and serve it, and feed it upon thoughts of beauty, would be all that I could care for in life; and the thought of winning you for mine, so that all your life I might cherish you, is to me a joy which brings tears into my eyes. Oh, dearest girl, I must live before you with that prayer, and tell me what you will, I must still pray it. Nor do I care how long you ask me to wait; my life has now but one desire, to love you in such a way as best may please you, to love you as much as you will let me. Helen, I have told all myself to you, and here as we gaze into each other's eyes our souls are bare to each other. As I say those words they bring to me a thought that sweeps away all my being,--that perhaps the great sorrow you have known has chastened your heart so that you too wish to forget yourself, and worship at the shrine of love; I see you trembling, and I think that perhaps it may be that, and that it needs only a word of mine to bring your soul to me! What that thought is I cannot tell you; but oh, it has been the dream of my life, it has been the thing for which I have lived, and for which I was dying. If I could win you for mine, Helen, for mine--and take you away with me, away from all else but love! The thought of it chokes me, and fills me with mighty anguish of yearning; and my soul burns for you, and I stretch out my arms to you; and I cry out to you that the happiness of my life is in your hands--that I love you--oh, that I love you!"
As the man had been speaking he had sunk down before Helen, still clasping her hands in his own. A great trembling had seized upon the girl and her bosom was rising and falling swiftly; but she mastered herself with a desperate effort and looked up, staring at him. "You tell me that you love me," she gasped, "you tell me that I am perfect! And yet you know what I have done--you have seen all my wrongness!"
Her voice broke, and she could not speak a word more; she bowed her head and the trembling came again, while the other clasped her hands more tightly and bent towards her. "Helen," he said, "I call you to a sacred life that forgets all things but love. Precious girl, my soul cries out to me that I have a right to you, that you were made that I might kneel before you; it cries out to me, 'Speak the word and claim her, claim her for your own, for no man could love her more than you love her. Tell her that all your life you have waited for this sacred hour to come; tell her that you have power and life, and that all your soul is hers!' And oh, dear heart, if only you could tell me that you might love me, that years of waiting might win you, it would be such happiness as I have never dared to dream. Tell me, Helen, tell me if it be true!"
And the girl lifted her face to him, and he saw that all her soul had leaped into her eyes. Her bosom heaved, and she flung back her head and stretched wide her arms, and cried aloud, "Oh, David, I do love you!"
He clasped her in his arms and pressed her upon his bosom in an ecstasy of joy, and kissed the lips that had spoken the wonderful words. "Tell me," he exclaimed, "you will be mine?" And she answered him, "Yours!"
For that there was no answer but the clasp of his love. At last he whispered, "Oh, Helen, a lifetime of worship can never repay you for words like those. My life, my soul, tell me once more, for you cannot be mine too utterly; tell me once more that you are mine!"
And suddenly she leaned back her head and looked into his burning eyes, and began swiftly, her voice choking: "Oh, listen, listen to me!--if it be a pleasure to you to know how you have this heart. I tell you, wonderful man that God has given me for mine, that I loved you the first word that I heard you speak in the garden. You were all that I knew of in life to yearn for--you were a wonderful light that had flashed upon me and blinded me; and when I saw my own vileness in it I flung myself down on my face, and felt a more fearful despair than I had ever dreamed could torture a soul. I would have crawled to you upon my knees and groveled in the dirt and begged you to have mercy upon me; and afterwards when you lifted me up, I could have kissed the ground that you trod. But oh, I knew one thing, and it was all that gave me courage ever to look upon you; I heard the sacred voice of my womanhood within me, telling me that I was not utterly vile, because it was in my ignorance that I had done my sin; and that if ever I had known what love really was, I should have laughed at the wealth of empires. To win your heart I would fling away all that I ever cared for in life--my beauty, my health, my happiness--yes, I would fling away my soul! And when you talked to me of love and told me that its sacrifice was hard, I--I, little girl that I am--could have told you that you were talking as a child; and I thought, 'Oh, if only this man, instead of urging me to love another and win my peace, if only _he_ were not afraid to trust me, if only he were willing that I should love _him!_' And this afternoon when I set out with you, do you know what was the real thing that lay at the bottom of my heart and made me so happy? I said to myself, 'It may take months, and it may take years, but there is a crown in life that I may win--that I may win forever! And this man shall tell me my duty, and night and day I shall watch and pray to do it, and do more; and he will not know why I do it, but it shall be for nothing but the love of him; and some day the worship that is in his heart shall come to me, tho it find me upon my death-bed.' And now you take me and tell me that I have only to love you; and you frighten me, and I cannot believe that it is true! But oh, you are pilot and master, and you know, and I will believe you--only tell me this wonderful thing again that I may be sure--that in spite of all my weakness and my helplessness and my failures, you love me--and you trust me--and you ask for me. If that is really the truth, David,--tell me if that is really the truth!"
David whispered to her, "Yes, yes; that is the truth;" and the girl went on swiftly, half sobbing with her emotion:
"If you tell me that, what more do I need to know? You are my life and my soul, and you call me. For the glory of your wonderful love I will leave all the rest of the world behind me, and you may take me where you will and when you will, and do with me what you please. And oh, you who frightened me so about my wrongness and told me how hard it was to be right--do you know how easy it is for me to say those words? And do you know how happy I am--because I love you and you are mine? David--my David--my heart has been so full,--so wild and thirsty,--that now when you tell me that you want all my love, it is a word of glory to me, it tells me to be happy as never in my life have I been happy before!"
And David bent towards her and kissed her upon her beautiful lips and upon her forehead; and he pressed the trembling form closer upon him, so that the heaving of her bosom answered to his own. "Listen, my love, my precious heart," he whispered, "I will tell you about the vision of my life, now when you and I are thus heart to heart. Helen, my soul cries out that this union must be perfect, in mind and soul and body a blending of all ourselves; so that we may live in each other's hearts, and seek each other's perfection; so that we may have nothing one from the other, but be one and the same soul in the glory of our love. That is such a sacred thought, my life, my darling; it makes all my being a song! And as I clasp you to me thus, and kiss you, I feel that I have never been so near to God. I have worshiped all my days in the great religion of love, and now as the glory of it burns in my heart I feel lifted above even us, and see that it is because of Him that we love each other so; because He is one, our souls may be one, actually and really one, so that each loses himself and lives the other's life. I know that I love you so that I can fling my whole self away, and give up every thought in life but you. As I tell you that, my heart is bursting; oh! drink in this passion of mine, and tell me once more that you love me!"
Helen had still been leaning back her head and gazing into his eyes, all her soul uplifted in the glory of her emotion; there was a wild look upon her face,--and her breath was coming swiftly. For a moment more she gazed at him, and then she buried her face on his shoulder, crying, "Mine--mine!" For a long time she clung to him, breathing the word and quite lost in the joy of it; until at last she leaned back her head and gazed up into his eyes once more.
"Oh, David," she said, "what can I answer you? I can only tell you one thing, that here I am in your arms, and that I am yours--yours! And I love you, oh, before God I love you with all my soul! And I am so happy--oh, David, so happy! Dearest heart, can you not see how you have won me, so that I cannot live without you, so that anything you ask of me you may have? I cannot tell you any more, because I am trembling so, and I am so weak; for this has been more than I can bear, it is as if all my being were melting within me. But oh, I never thought that a human being could be so happy, or that to love could be such a world of wonder and joy."
Helen, as she had been speaking, had sunk down exhaustedly, letting her head fall forward upon her bosom; she lay quite limp in David's arms, while little by little the agitation that had so shaken her subsided. In the meantime he was bending over the golden hair that was so wild and so beautiful, and there were tears in his eyes. When at last the girl was quiet she leaned back her head upon his arm and looked up into his face, and he bent over her and pressed a kiss upon her mouth. Helen gazed into his eyes and asked him:
"David, do you really know what you have done to this little maiden, how fearfully and how madly you have made her yours? I never dreamed of what it could mean to love before; when men talked to me of it I laughed at them, and the touch of their hands made me shrink. And now here I am, and everything about me is changed. Take me away with you, David, and keep me--I do not care what becomes of me, if only you let me have your heart."
The girl closed her eyes and lay still again for a long time; when she began to speak once more it was softly, and very slowly, and half as if in a dream: "David," she whispered, "_my_ David, I am tired; I think I never felt so helpless. But oh, dear heart, it seems a kind of music in my soul,--that I have cast all my sorrow away, and that I may be happy again, and be at peace--at peace!" And the girl repeated the words to herself more and more gently, until her voice had died away altogether; the other was silent for a long time, gazing down upon the perfect face, and then at last he kissed the trembling eyelids till they opened once again.
"Sweet girl," he whispered, "as God gives me life you shall never be sorry for that beautiful faith, or sorry that you have laid bare your heart to me." Long afterwards, having watched her without speaking, he went on with a smile, "I wonder if you would not be happier yet, dearest, if I should tell you all the beautiful things that I mean to do with you. For now that you are all mine, I am going to carry you far away; you will like that, will you not, precious one?"
He saw a little of an old light come back into Helen's eyes as he asked that question. "What difference does it make?" she asked, gently.
David laughed and went on: "Very well then, you shall have nothing to do with it. I shall take you in my arms just as you are. And I have a beautiful little house, a very little house among the wildest of mountains, and there we shall live this wonderful summer, all alone with our wonderful love. And there we shall have nature to worship, and beautiful music, and beautiful books to read. You shall never have anything more to think about all your life but making yourself perfect and beautiful."
The girl had raised herself up and was gazing at him with interest as he spoke thus. But he saw a swift frown cross her features at his last words, and he stopped and asked her what was the matter. Helen's reply was delivered very gravely. "What I was to think about," she said, "was settled long ago, and I wish you would not say wicked things like that to me."
A moment later she laughed at herself a little; but then, pushing back her tangled hair from her forehead, she went on seriously: "David, what you tell me of is all that I ever thought of enjoying in life; and yet I am so glad that you did not say anything about it before! For I want to love you because of _you_, and I want you to know that I would follow you and worship you and live in your love if there were nothing else in life for you to offer me. And, David, do you not see that you are never going to make this poor, restless creature happy until you have given her something stern to do, something that she may know she is doing just for your love and for nothing else, bearing some effort and pain to make you happy?"
The girl had put her hands upon his shoulders, and was gazing earnestly into his eyes; he looked at her for a moment, and then responded in a low voice: "Helen, dearest, let us not play with fearful words, and let us not tempt sorrow. My life has not been all happiness, and you will have pain enough to share with me, I fear, poor little girl." She thought in a flash of his sickness, and she turned quite pale as she looked at him; but then she bent forward gently and folded her arms about him, and for a minute more there was silence.
There were tears standing in David's eyes when she looked at him again. But he smiled in spite of them and kissed her once more, and said: "Sweetheart, it is not wrong that we should be happy while we can; and come what may, you know, we need not ever cease to love. When I hear such noble words from you I think I have a medicine to make all sickness light; so be bright and beautiful once more for my sake."
Helen smiled and answered that she would, and then her eye chanced to light upon the ground, where she saw the wild rose lying forgotten; she stooped down and picked it up, and then knelt on the grass beside David and pressed it against his bosom while she gazed up into his face. "Once," she said, smiling tenderly, "I read a pretty little stanza, and if you will love me more for it, I will tell it to you.
"'The sweetest flower that blows I give you as we part, To you, it is a rose, To me, it is a heart.'"And the man took the flower, and took the hands too, and kissed them; then a memory chanced to come to him, and he glanced about him on the moss-covered forest floor. He saw some little clover-like leaves that all forest-lovers love, and he stooped and picked one of the gleaming white blossoms and laid it in Helen's hands. "Dearest," he said, "it is beautiful to make love with the flowers; I chanced to think how I once _wrote_ a pretty little poem, and if you will love me more for it, I will tell it to _you_." Then while the girl gazed at him happily, he went on to add, "This was long before I knew you, dear, and when I worshiped the flowers. One of them was this little wood sorrel.
I found it in the forest dark, A blossom of the snow; I read upon its face so fair, No heed of human woe.Helen gazed at him a moment after he finished, and then she took the little flower and laid it gently back in the group from which he had plucked it; afterwards she looked up and laughed. "I want that poem for myself," she said, and drew closer to him, and put her arms about him; he gazed into her upraised face, and there was a look of wonder in his eyes.
Yet when I sang my passion song And when the sun rose higher, The flower flung wide its heart to me, And lo! its heart was fire."
"Oh, precious girl," he said, "I wonder if you know what a vision of beauty God has made you! I wonder if you know how fair your eyes are, if you know what glory a man may read in your face! Helen, when I look upon you I know that God has meant to pay me for all my years of pain; and it is all that I can do to think that you are really, really mine. Do you not know that to gaze upon you will make me a mad, mad creature for years and years and years?"
Helen answered him gravely: "With all my beauty, David, I am really, really yours; and I love you so that I do not care anything in the world about being beautiful, except because it makes you happy; to do that I shall be always just as perfect as I may, thro all those mad years and years and years!" Then, as she glanced about her, she added: "We must go pretty soon, because it is late; but oh, before we do, sweetheart, will you kiss me once more for all those years and years and years?"
And David bent over and clasped her in his arms again,
Sie ist mir ewig, ist mir immer, Erb und Eigen, ein und all!
END OF PART I