Women's Short Fictions: A Nineteenth-Century Online Anthology--return to Index

Spofford, The Amber Gods--continued

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Papa made Mr. Dudley stay and dine, and of course we were almost bored to death, when in came Rose again, stealing behind Lu's chair, and showering her in the twilight with a rain of May-flowers.

"Now you'll have to gather them again," he said.

"Oh, how exquisite!  how delicious!  how I thank you!" she exclaimed, without disturbing one, however.

"You won't touch them again?  Then I must," he added.

"No, no, Mr. Rose!" I cried. "I'll pick them up, and take toll."

"Don't touch them!" said Lu, "they're so sweet!"

"Yes," he murmured lower, "they share with you.  I always said so, you remember."

"O Yes! and every May-day but the last you have brought them to me."

"Have you the trailing-arbutus there?" asked Mr. Dudley.

"No," returned Rose.

"I thought I detected strawberries," submitted the other,--"a pleasant odor which recalls childhood to memory."

For some noses all sweet scents are lumped in one big strawberry; clovers, or hyacinths, or every laden aid indifferently, they still sniff--strawberries.  Commonplace!

"It's a sign of high birth to track strawberry-beds where no fruit is, Mr. Dudley," said I.

"Very true, Miss Willoughby.  I was born pretty high up in the Green Mountains."

"And so keep your memory green?"

"Strawberries in June," said Rose, good-naturedly.  "But fruit out of season is trouble out of reason, the Dream-Book says.  It's May now, and these are its blossoms."

"Everybody makes such a fuss about ground-laurel!" said I. "I don't see why, I'm sure.  They're never perfect.  The leaf is hideous,--a stupid duenna!  You get great green leaves, and the flowers all white; you get deep rosy flowers, and the leaves are all brown and bitten.  They're neither one thing nor another.  They're just like heliotropes,--no bloom at all, only scent.  I've torn up myriads, to the ten stamens in their feathered ease, to find where that smell comes from,--that is perfectly delicious,--and I never could.  They are a cheat."

"Have you finished your tirade?" asked Rose, indifferently.

"I don't believe you mean so," murmured Lu.  "They have a color of their own, almost human, infantine; and when you mass them, the tone is more soft and mellow than a flute.  Everybody loves May-flowers."

"Just about.  I despise flutes.  I like bassoons."

"They are prophets of apple-blossoms."

"Which brings them at once into the culinary."

"They are not very showy," said Mr. Dudley; "but when we remember the Fathers--"

"There's nothing like them," said Rose, gently, as he knelt by Lu, slowly putting them into order; "nothing but pure, clear things; they're the fruit of snow-flakes, the firstlings of the year.  When one thinks how sweetly they come from their warm coverts and look into this cold, breezy sky so unshrinkingly, and from what a soil they gather such a wealth of simple beauty, one feels ashamed."

"Climax worthy of the useless things!" said I.

"The moment in which first we are thoroughly ashamed, Miss Willoughby, is the sovereign one of our life.  Useless things?  They are worth king and bishop.  Every year, weariness and depression melt away when atop of the seasons' crucible boil these little bubbles.  Isn't everybody better for lavishing love?  And no one merely likes these; whoever cares at all, loves entirely.  We always take and give resemblances or sympathies from any close connection, and so these  are in their way a type of their lovers.  What virtue is in them to distil the shadow of the great pines, that wave layer after layer with a grave rhythm over them, into this delicate tint, I wonder.  They have so decided an individually,--different there from hot-house belles;--fashion strips us of our characteristics--"

"You needn't turn to me for illustration of exotics," said I.

He threw me a cluster, half-hidden in its green towers, and went on, lying one by one and bringing out little effects.

"The sweetest modesty clings to them, which Alphonse Karr denies to the violet, so that they are almost out of place in a drawing-room; one ought to give them there the shelter of their large, kind of leaves."

"Hemlock's the only wear," said Louise.

"Or last year's scarlet blackberry triads.  Vines together," he suggested.

"But sometimes they forget their nun-like habit," she added, "put on a frolicsome mood, and clamber out and flush all the deep ruts of the carriage-road in Follymill Woods, you remember."

"Penance next year," said I.

"No, no; you are not to bring your old world into my new," objected Rose; "they're fair little Puritans, who do no penance.  Perhaps they ran out so to greet the winter-worn mariners of Plymouth, and have been pursued by the love of their descendents ever since, they getting charier.  Just remember how they grow.  Why, you'd never suspect a flower there, till, happening to turn up a leaf, you're in the midst of harvest.  You may  tramp aces in vain, and within a stone's throw they've been awaiting you.  There's something very charming, too, about them in this,--that when the buds are set, and at last a single blossom starts the trail, you plucking at one end of the vine, your heart's delight may touch the other a hundred miles away.  Spring's telegraph.  So they bind our coast with this network of flower and root."

"By no means," I asserted. "They grow in spots."

"Pshaw!  I won't believe it.  They're everywhere just the same, only underground preparing their little witnesses, whom they send out where most needed.  You don't suppose they find much joy in the fellowship of brown pine pins and sad gray mosses, do you?  Some folks say they don't grow away from the shore; but I've found them, I'm sorry to say, up in New Hampshire."

"Why sorry?" asked Lu.

"Oh, I like it best that they need our sea.  They're eminently choice for this hour, too, when you scarcely gather their tint,--that tint, as if moonlight should wish to become a flower,--but their fragrance is an atmosphere all about you.  How genuinely spicy it is!  It's the very quintessence of those regions all whose sweetness exudes in sun-saturated balsams,--the very breath of pine woods and salt sea winds.  How could it live away from the sea?"

"Why, sir," said Mr. Dudley, "you speak as it it were a creature!"

"A hard woody stem, a green robust leaf, a delicate odorous flower, Mr. Dudley, what is it all but an expression of New England character?"

"Doxology!" said I.

"Now, Miss Louise, as you have made me atone for my freedom, the task being done, let me present them in form."

"I'm sure she needn't praise them," said I.

She didn't.

"I declared people make a great fuss over them," I continued.  "And you prove it.  You put me in mind of a sound to be heard where one gets them,--a strange sound, like low, distant thunder, and it's nothing but the drum of a little partridge!  a great song out of nothing.--Bless me!  what's that?"

"Oh, the fireworks!" said Lu.  And we all thronged to the windows.

"It's very good of your uncle to have them," said Rose.  "What a crowd from the town!  Think of the pyrotechnics among comets and aerolites some fellows may have!  It's quite right, too, to make our festivals with light; it's the highest and last of all things; we never can carry our imaginations beyond light--"

"Our imaginations ought to carry us," said Lu.

"Come," I said, "you can play what pranks you please with the little May; but light is my province, my absorption; let it alone."

It grew quite dark, interrupted now and then by the glare of rockets; but at last a stream of central fire went out in a slow rain of countless violets, reflected with pale blue flashes in the river below, and then the gloom was unbroken.  I saw them, in that long dim gleam, standing together at a window.  Louise, her figure almost swaying as if to some inaudible music, but her face turned to him with such a steady quiet.  Ah me! what a tremulous joy, what passion, and what search, lit those eyes!  But you know that passion means suffering, and, tracing it in the original through it roots, you come to pathos, and still farther, to lamentation, I've heard.  But he was not looking down at her, only out and away, paler than ever in the blue light, sad and resolved.  I ordered candles.

"Sing to me, Louise," said Rose, at length.  "It is two years since I heard you."

"Sing 'What's a' the steer, kimmer,'" I said.  But instead, she gave the little ballad, "And bring my love again, for he lies among the Moors."

Rose went and leaned over the piano-forte while she sang, bending, and commanding her eyes.  He seemed to wish to put himself where he was before he ever left her, to awaken everything lovely in her, to bring her before him as utterly developed as she might be,--not only to afford her, but to force upon her every chance to master him.  He seemed to wish to love, I thought.

"Thank you," he said, as she ceased. "Did you choose it purposely, Louise?"

Lu sang very nicely, and, though I dare say she would rather not then, when Mr. Dudley asked for the "Vale of Avoca," and the "Margin of Zurich's Fair Waters," she gave them just  as kindly.  Altogether, quite a damp programme.  Then papa came in, bright and blithe, whirled me round in a pas de deux, and we all very gay and hilarious slipped into the second of May.

Dear me! how times goes!  I must hurry.--After that, I didn't see so much of Rose; but he met Lu everywhere, came in when I was out, and, if I returned, he went, perfectly regardless of my existence, it seemed.  They rode, too, all round the country; and she sat to him, though he never filled out the sketch.  For weeks he was devoted; but I fancied, when I saw them, that there lingered in his manner the same thing as on the first evening while she sang to him; she was always very gentle, but such a decided body,--that's the Willoughby, her mother.  Yet during these weeks Rose had not spoken, not formally; delicate and friendly kindness was all Lu could have found, had she sought.  One night, I remember, he came in and wanted us to go out and row with him on the river.  Lu wouldn't go without me.

"Will you come?" said he, coolly, as if I were merely necessary as a thwart or thole-pin might have been, turning and letting his eyes fall on me an instant,  then snatching them off with a sparkle and flush, and such a lordly carelessness of manner otherwise.

"Certainly not," I replied.

So they remained, and Lu began to open a bundle of Border Ballads, which he had brought her.  The very first one was "Whistle an' I'll come to you, my lad." I laughed.  She glanced up quickly, then held it in her hands a moment, repeated the name, and asked if he liked it.

"Oh, yes," he said. "There couldn't be a Scotch song without that rhythm better than melody, which, after all, is Beethoven's secret."

"Perhaps," said Louise. "But I shall not sing this."

"Oh, do!" he said, turning with surprise.  "You don't know what an aerial, whistling little thing it is!"


"Why, Louise!  There is nobody could sing it but you."

"Of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what color it please God," quoted I, and in came Mr. Dudley, as he usually did when not wanted; though I've no reason to find fault with him, notwithstanding his blank treatment of me.  He never took any notice, because he was in love with Lu.  Rose never took any notice of me, either.  But with a difference!

Lu was singularly condescending to Mr. Dudley that evening; and Rose, sitting aside, looked so very much disturbed--whether pleasantly or otherwise didn't occur to me--that I couldn't help enjoying his discomfiture, and watching him through it.

Now, though I told you I wasn't nervous, I never should know I had this luxurious calm, if there were nothing to measure it by; and once in a great while a perfect whirlpool seizes me,--my blood is all in turmoil,--I bubble with silent laughter, or cry with all my heart.  I had been in such a strange state a good while; and now, as I surveyed Rose, it gradually grew fiercer, till I actually sprang to my feet, and exclaimed, "There!  it is insupportable!  I've been in the magnetic storm long enough!  it is time something took it from me!" and ran out-doors.

Rose sauntered after, by and by, as if unwillingly drawn by a loadstone, and found the heavens wrapped in a rosy flame of Northern Lights.  He looked as though he belonged to them, so pale and elf-like was his face then, like one bewitched.

"Papa's fireworks fade before mine," I said.  "Now we can live in the woods, as Lu has been wishing; for a dry southerly wind follows this, with a blue smoke filming all the distant fields.  Won't it be delicious!

"Or rain," he replied; "I think it will rain to-morrow,--warm, full rains." And he seemed as if such a chance would dissolve him entirely.

As for me, those shifting, silent sheets of splendor abstracted all that was alien, and left me in my normal state.

"There they come!" I said, as Lu and Mr. Dudley, and some others who had entered in my absence,--gnats dancing in the beam,--stepped down towards us.  "How charming for us all to sit out here!"

"How annoying, you mean," he replied, simply for contradiction.

"It hasn't been warm enough before," I added.

"And Louise may take cold now," he said, as if wishing to exhibit his care for her. "Whom is she speaking with?  Blarsaye?  And who comes after?"

"Parti.  A delightful person,--been abroad, too. You and he can have a crack about Louvres and Vaticans now, and leave Lu and Mr. Dudley to me."

Rose suddenly inspected me and then Parti, as if he preferred the crack to be with cudgels; but in a second the little blaze vanished, and he only stripped a weigelia branch of every blossom.

I wonder what made Lu behave so that night; she scarcely spoke to Rose, appeared entirely unconcerned while he hovered round her like an officious sprite, was all grace to the others, and sweetness to Mr. Dudley.  And Rose, oblivious of snubs, paraded his devotion, seemed determined to show his love for Lu,--as if any one cared a straw,--and took the pains to be positively rude to me.  He was possessed of an odd restlessness; a little defiance bristled his movements, and air of contrariness; and whenever he became quiet, he seemed again like one enchanted, and folded up in a dream, to break whose spell he was about to abandon efforts.  He told me Life had destroyed my enchantment;--I wonder what will destroy his. --Lu refused to sit in the garden-chair he offered,--just suffered the wreath of pink bells he gave her to hang in her hand, and by and by fall, --and when the north grew ruddier and swept the zenith with lances of light, and when it faded, and a dim cloud hazed all the stars, preserved the same equanimity, kept on the evil tenor of her way, and bade every one an impartial farewell at separating.  She is preciously well-bred.

We hadn't remained in the garden all that time, though,--but, strolling through the gate and over the field, had reached a small grove that fringes the gully worn by Wild Fall and crossed by the railway.  As we emerged from that, talking gayly, and our voices almost drowned by the dash of the little waterfall and the echo from the opposite rock, I sprang across the curving track, thinking them behind, and at the same instant a thunderous roar burst all about, a torrent of hot air whizzed and eddied over me, I fell dizzied and stunned, and the night express-train shot by like a burning arrow.  Of course I was dreadfully hurt by my fall and fright,--I feel the shock now,--the blow, the stroke,--but they all stood on the little mound, from which I had sprung, like so many petrifactions:  Rose, just as he had caught Louise back on firmer ground when she was about to follow me, his arm wound swiftly round her waist, yet his head thrust forward eagerly, his pale face and glowing eyes bent, not on her, but me.  Still he never stirred, and poor Mr. Dudley first came to my assistance.  We all drew breath at our escape, and, a little slowly, on my account, turned homeward.

"You are not bruised, Miss Willoughby?" asked Blarsaye, wakened.

"Dear Yone!" Lu said, leaving Mr. Dudley's arm, "you're so very pale!  It's not pain, is it?"

"I am not conscious of any.  Why should I be injured, any more than you?"

"Do you know," said Rose, sotto voce, turning and bending merely his head to me, "I thought I heard you scream and that you were dead."

"And what then?"

"Nothing, but that you were lying dead and torn, and I should see you," he said,--and said as if he liked to say it, experiencing a kind of savage delight at his ability to say it.

"A pity to have disappointed you!" I answered.

"I saw it coming before you leaped," he added, as a malignant finality, and drawing nearer. "You were both on the brink.  I called, but probably neither you nor Lu heard me.  So I snatched her back."

Now I had been next him then.

"Jove's balance," I said, taking Parti's arm.

He turned instantly to Lu, and kept by her during the remainder of the walk, Mr. Dudley being at the other side.  I was puzzled a little by Lu, as I have been a good many times since;  I thought she liked Rose so much.  Papa met us in the field, and there the affair must be detailed to him, and then he would have us celebrate our safety in Champagne.

"Good by, Louise," said Rose, beside her at the gate, and offering his hand, somewhat later. "I'm going away to-morrow, if it's fine."

"Going?" with involuntary surprise.

"To camp out in Maine."

"Oh,--I hope you will enjoy it."

"Would you stay long, Louise?"

"If the sketching-grounds are good."

"When I come back, you'll sing my songs?  Shake hands."

She just laid a cold touch on his.

"Louise, are you offended with me?"

She looked up with so much simplicity.  "Offended, Rose, with you?"

"Not offended, but frozen,"  I could have said.  Lu is like that little sensitive-plant, shrinking into herself with stiff unconsciousness at a certain touch.  But I don't think he noticed the sad tone in her voice, as she said good night; I didn't, till, the others being gone, I saw her turn after his disappearing figure, with a look that would have been despairing, but for it supplication.

The only thing Lu ever said to me about this was,--

"Don't you think Rose a little altered, Yone, since he came home?"


"I have noticed it ever since you showed him your beads, that day."

"Oh! it's the amber," I said.  "They are amulets, and have bound him in a thrall.  You must wear them, and dissolve the charm.  He's in a dream."

"What is it to be in a dream?" she asked.

"To lose thought of past or future."

She repeated my words,--"Yes, he's in a dream," she said musingly.

*    *    *

Rose didn't come near us for a fortnight; but he had not camped at all, as he said.  It was the first stone thrown into Lu's life, and I never saw any one keep the ripples under so; but her suspicions were aroused.  Finally he came in again, all as before, and I thought things might have been different, if in the fort-night, Mr. Dudley had not been so assiduous; and now, to the latter's happiness, there were several ragged children and inform old women in whom, Lu having taken them in charge, he chose to be especially interested.  Lu always was house-keeper, both because it had fallen to her while  mamma and I were away, and because she had an administrative faculty equal to General Jackson's;  and Rose, who had frequently gone about with her, inspecting jellies and cordials and adding up her accounts, now unexpectedly found Mr. Dudley so near his former place that he disdained to resume it himself;--not entirely, because the  man of course couldn't be as familiar as an old playmate; but just enough to put Rose aside.  He never would compete with any one; and Lu did not know how to repulse the other.

If the amulets had ravished Rose from himself, they did at a distance, for I had not worn them since that day.--You needn't look.  Thales imagined amber had a spirit; and Pliny says it is a counter-charm for sorceries.  There are a great many mysterious things in the world.  Aren't there any hidden relations between us and certain substances?  Will you tell me something impossible?--But he came and went about Louise, and she sung his songs, and all was going finely again, when we gave our midsummer party.

Everybody was there, of course, and we had enrapturing  music.  Louise wore--no matter--something of twilight purple, and begged for the amber, since it was too much for my toilette,--a double India muslin, whose snowy sheen scintillated with festoons of gorgeous green beetles' wings flaming like fiery emeralds.  A family dress, my dear, and worn by my aunt before me,--only that individual must have been frightened out of her wits by it.  A cruel, savage dress, very like, but ineffably gorgeous.  So I wore her aqua-marina, though the other would have been better; and when I sailed in, with all the airy folds in a hoar-frost mistiness fluttering round me and the glitter of Lu's jewels,--

"Why!" said Rose, "You look like the moon in a halo."

But Lu disliked a hostess out-dressing her guests.

It was dull enough till quite late, and then I stepped out with Mr. Parti, and walked up and down a garden-path. Others were outside as well, and the last time I passed a little arbor I caught a yellow gleam of amber.  Lu, of course.  Who was with her?  a gentleman, bending low to catch her words, holding her hand in an irresistible pressure.  Not Rose, for he was flitting in beyond.  Mr. Dudley.  And I saw then that Lu's kindness was too great to allow her to repel him angrily; her gentle conscience let her wound no one.  Had Rose seen the pantomime?  Without doubt.  He had been seeking her, and he found her, he thought, in Mr. Dudley's arms.  After a while we went in, and, finding all smooth enough, I slipped through the balcony-window and hung over the balustrade, glad to be alone a moment.  The wind, blowing in, carried the gay sounds away from me, even the music came richly muffled through the heavy curtains, and I wished to breathe balm and calm.  The moon, round and full, was just rising, making the gloom below more sweet.  A full moon is poison to some; they shut it out at every crevice, and do not suffer a ray to cross them; it has a chemical or magnetic effect; it sickens them.  But I am never more free and royal than when the subtile celerity of its magic combinations, whatever they are, is at work.  Never had I known the mere joy of being, so intimately as to-night.  The river slept soft and mystic below the woods, the sky was full of light, the air ripe with summer.  Out of the yellow honeysuckles that climbed around, clouds of delicious fragrance stole and swathed me; long wafts of faint harmony gently thrilled me.  Dewy and dark and uncertain was all beyond.  I, possessed with a joyousness so deep through its contented languor as to counterfeit serenity, forgot all my wealth of nature, my pomp of beauty, abandoned myself to the hour.

A strain of melancholy dance-music pierced the air and fell.  I half turned my head, and my eyes met Rose.  He had been there before me, perhaps. His face white and shining in the light,  shining with a strange sweet smile of relief, of satisfaction, of delight, his lips quivering with unspoken words, his eyes dusky with depth after depth of passion.  How long did my eyes swim on his?  I cannot tell.  He never stirred; still leaned there against the pillar, still looked down on me like a marble god.  The sudden tears dazzled my gaze, fell down my hot cheek, and still I knelt fascinated by that smile.  In that moment I felt that he was more beautiful than the night, than the music, than I.  Then I knew that all this time, all summer, all past summers, all my life long, I had loved him.

Some one was waiting to make his adieux; I heard my father seeking me; I parted the curtains and went in.  One after one those tedious people left, the lights grew dim, and still he stayed without.  I ran to the window, and, lifting the curtain, I bent forward, crying,--

"Mr. Rose!  do you spend the night on the balcony?"

Then he moved, stepped down, murmured something to  my father, bowed loftily to Louise, passed me without a sign, and went out.  In a moment, Lu's voice, a quick sharp exclamation touched him; he turned, came back.  She, wondering at him, had stood toying with the amber, and at last crushing the miracle of the whole, a bell-wort wrought most delicately with all the dusty pollen grained upon its anthers, crushing it between her fingers, breaking the thread, and scattering the beads upon the carpet.  He stooped with her to gather them again, he took from her hand and restored to her afterward the shattered fragments of the bell-wort, he helped her disentangle the aromatic string from her falling braids,--for I kept apart,--he breathed the penetrating incense of each separate amulet, and I saw that from that hour, when every atom of his sensation was tense and vibrating, she would be associated with the loathed amber in his undefined consciousness, would be surrounded with an atmosphere of its perfume, that Lu was truly sealed from him in it, sealed  into herself.  Then again, saying no word, he went out.

Louise stood like one lost,--took aimlessly a few steps,--retraced them,--approached a table,--touched something,--left it.

"I am so sorry about your beads!" she said, apologetically,--when she looked up and saw me astonished,--putting the broken pieces into my hand.

"Goodness!  Is that what you are fluttering about so for?"

"They can't be mended," she continued, "but I will thread them again."

"I don't care about them, I'm sick of amber," I answered consolingly. "You may have them, if you will."

"No.  I must pay too great a price for them," she replied.

"Nonsense!  when they break again, I'll pay you back," I said without in the least knowing what she meant.  "I didn't  suppose you were too proud for a 'thank you'?"

She came and put both her arms round my neck, laid her cheek beside mine a minute, kissed me, and went up stairs.  Lu always rather worshipped me.

Dressing my hair that night, Carmine, my maid, begged for the remnants of the bell-wort to "Make a scant-bag with, Miss."

Next day, no Rose; it rained.  But at night he came and took possession of the room, with a strange, airy gayety never seen in him before.  It was so chilly, that I had heaped the wood-boughs, used in the yesterday's decorations, on the hearth, and lighted a fragrant crackling flame that danced up wildly at my touch,--for I have the faculty of fire.  I sat at one side, Lu at the other, papa was holding a skein of silk for her to wind, the amber beads were  twinkling in the firelight,--and when she slipped them slowly on the thread, bead after bead warmed through and through by the real blaze, they crowded the room afresh with their pungent spiciness. Papa had called Rose to take his place at the other end of the silk, and had gone out; and when Lu finished, she fastened the ends, cut the thread, Rose likening her to Atropos, and put them back into her basket.  Still playing with the scissors, following down the lines of her hand, a little snap was heard.

"Oh!" said Louise, "I have broken my ring!"

"Can't it be repaired?" I asked. 

"No," she returned briefly, but pleasantly, and threw the pieces into the fire.

"The hand must not be ringless," said Rose; and slipping off the ring of hers that he wore, he dropped it on the amber, then got up and threw an armful of fresh boughs upon the blaze.

So that was all done.  Then Rose was gayer than before.  He is one of those people to whom you must allow moods,--when their sun shines, dance,--and when their vapors rise, sit in the the shadow.  Every variation of the atmosphere affects him, though by no means uniformly; and so sensitive is he, that, when connected with you by any intimate rapport, even if but  momentary, he almost divines your thoughts.  He is full of perpetual surprises.  I am sure he was a nightingale before he was Rose.  An iridescence like sea-foam sparkled in him that evening, he laughed as lightly as the little tinkling mass-bells at every moment, and seemed to diffuse a rosy glow wherever he went in the room.  Yet gayety was not his peculiar specialty, and at length he sat before the fire, and, taking Lu's scissors, commenced cutting bits of paper in profiles.  Somehow they all looked strangely like and unlike Mr. Dudley.  I pointed out to Lu, and if he had needed confirmation, her changing color gave it.  He only glanced at her askance, and then broke into the merriest description of his life in Rome, of which he declared he had not spoken to us yet, talking fast and laughing as gleefully as a child, and illustrating people and localities with scissors and paper as  he went on, a couple of careless snips putting a whole scene before us.

The floor was well strewn with such chips,--fountains, statues, baths, and all the persons of his little drama,--when papa came in.  He held an open letter, and, sitting down, read it over again.  Rose fell into silence, clipping the scissors daintily in and out the white sheet through twinkling intricacies.  As the design dropped out, I caught it,--a long wreath of honeysuckle-blossoms.  Ah, I knew where the honeysuckles grew!  Lu was humming a little tune.  Rose joined, and hummed the last  bars, then bade us good-night.

"Yone," said papa, "your Aunt Willoughby is very ill,--will not recover.  She is my elder brother's widow; you are her heir.  You must go and stay with her."

Now it was very likely that just at this time I was going away to nurse Aunt Willoughby!  Moreover, illness is my very antipodes--its nearness is invasion,--we are utterly antipathetic,--it disgusts and repels me.  What sympathy can there be between my florid health, my rank redundant life, and any wasting disease of death?  What more hostile than focal concentration and obscure decomposition?  You see, we cannot breathe the same atmosphere.  I banish the thought of such a thing from my feeling, from my memory.  So I said,--

"It's impossible.  I'm not going an inch to Aunt Willoughby's.  Why, papa, it's more than a hundred miles, and in this weather!"

"Oh, the wind has changed."

"Then it will be too warm for such a journey."

"A new idea, Yone!  Too warm for the mountains?"

"Yes, papa.  I'm not going a step."

"Why, Yone, you astonish me!  Your sick aunt!"

"That's the very thing.  If she were well, I might,--perhaps.  Sick!  What can I do for her?  I never go into a sick-room.  I hate it.  I don't know how to do a thing there.  Don't say another word, papa.  I can't go."

"It is out of the question to let it pass so, my dear.  Here you are nursing all the invalids in town, yet--"

"Indeed, I'm not, papa.  I don't know and don't care whether they're dead or alive."

"Well, then, it's Lu."

"Oh, yes, she's hospital agent for half the country."

"Then it is time that you also get a little experience."

"Don't, papa!  I don't want it.  I never saw anybody die, and I never mean to."

"Can't I do as well, uncle?" asked Lu.

"You, darling?  Yes; but it isn't your duty."

"I thought, perhaps," she said, "you would rather Yone went."

"So I would."

"Dear papa, don't vex me!  Ask anything else!

"It is so unpleasant to Yone," Lu murmured, "that maybe I had better go.  And if you've no objection, sir, I'll take the early train to-morrow."

Wasn't she an angel?

*    *    *

Lu was away a month.  Rose came in, expressing his surprise.  I said, "Othello's occupation's gone?"

"And left him room for pleasure now," he retorted.

"Which means seclusion from the world, in the society of lakes and chromes."

"Miss Willoughby," said he, turning and looking directly past me, "may I paint you?"

"Me?  Oh, you can't."

"No; but may I try?"

"I cannot go to you."

"I will come to you."

"Do you suppose it will be like?"

"Not at all, of course.  It is to be then?"

"Oh, I've no more right than any other piece of Nature to refuse an artist a study in color."

He faced about, half pouting, as if he would go out, then returned and fixed the time.

So he painted.  He generally put me into a broad beam that slanted from the top of the veiled window, and day after day he worked.  Ah, what glorious days they were!  how gay! how full of life!  I almost feared to let him image me on canvas, do you know?  I had a fancy it would lay my soul so bare to his inspection.  What secrets might be searched, what depths fathomed,  at such times, if men knew!  I feared lest he should see me as I am, in those great masses of warm light lying before him, as I feared he saw when he said amber harmonized with me,--all being things not polarized, not organized, without centre, so to speak.  But it escaped him, and he wrought on.  Did he succeed?  Bless you!  he might as well have painted the sun; and who could do that?  No; but shades and combinations that he had hardly touched or known, before, he had to lavish now; he learned more than some years might have taught him; he, who worshipped beauty, saw how thoroughly I possessed it; he has told me that through me he learned the sacredness of color.  "Since he loves beauty so, why does he not love me?" I asked myself; and perhaps the feverish hope and suspense only lit up that beauty and fed it with fresh fires.  Ah, the July days!  Did you ever wander over barren, parched stubble-fields, and suddenly front a knot of red Turk's-cap lilies, flaring as if they had drawn all the heat and brilliance from the land into their tissues?  Such were they.  And if I were to grow old and gray, they would light down all my life,  and I could be willing to lead a dull, grave age, looking back and remembering them, warming myself forever in their constant youth.  If I had nothing to hope, they would become my whole existence. Think, then, what it will be to have all days like those!

He never satisfied himself, as he might have done, had he known me better,--and he never shall know me!--and used to look at me for the secret of his failure, till I laughed; then the look grew wistful, grew enamored.  By and by we left the pictures.  We went into the woods, warm dry woods; we stayed there from morning till night.  In the burning noons, we hung suspended between two heavens, in our boat on glassy forest-pools, where now and then a shoal of white lilies rose and crowded out the under-sky.  Sunsets burst like bubbles over us.  When the hidden thrushes were breaking one's heart with music, and the sweet fern sent up a tropical fragrance beneath our crushing steps, we came home to rooms full of guests and my father's genial warmth.  What a month it was!

One day papa went up into New Hampshire; Aunt Willoughby was dead; and one day Lu came home.

She was very pale and thin.  Her eyes were hollow and purple.

"There is some mistake, Lu," I said. "It is you who are dead, instead of Aunt Willoughby."

"Do I look so wretchedly?" she asked, glancing at the mirror.

"Dreadfully!  Is it all watching and grief?"

"Watching and grief," said Lu.

How melancholy her smile was!  She would have crazed me in a little while, if I had minded her.

"Did you care so much for fretful, crabbed Aunt Willoughby?"

"She was very kind to me," Lu replied.

There was an odd air with her that day.  She didn't go at once and get off her travelling-dress, but trifled about in a kind of expectancy, a little fever going and coming in her cheeks, and turning at any noise.

Will you believe it?--though I knew Lu had refused to marry him,--who met her at the half-way junction, saw about her luggage, and drove home with her, but Mr. Dudley, and was with us, a half-hour afterward, when Rose came in?  Lu didn't turn at his step, but the little fever in her face prevented his seeing her as I had done.  He shook hands with her and asked after her health, and shook hands with Mr. Dudley (who hadn't been near us during her absence), and seemed to wish she should feel that he recognized without pain a connection between herself and that personage.  But when he came back to me, I was perplexed again at that bewitched look in his face,--as if Lu's presence made him feel that he was in a dream, I the enchantress of that dream.  It did not last long, though.  And soon she saw Mr. Dudley out, and went up-stairs.

When Lu came down to the table, she had my beads in her hand again.

"I went into your room and got them, dear Yone," she said, "Because I have found something to replace the broken  bell-wort," she resumed, "and I must pierce it for the thread; but it will fill the number.  Was I not fortunate to find it?"

But when at a flame she heated a long slender needle to pierce it, the little winged wonder shivered between her fingers, and under the hot steel filled the room with the honeyed smell of its dusted substance.

"Never mind," said I again. "It's a shame, though,--it was so much prettier than the bell-wort!  We might have known it was too brittle.  It's just as well, Lu."

The room smelt like a chancel at vespers.  Rose sauntered to the window, and so down the garden, and then home.

"Yes.  It cannot be helped," she said, with a smile.  "But I really counted upon seeing it on the string.  I'm not lucky at amber.  You know little Asian said it would bring bane to the bearer."

"Dear! dear!  I had quite forgotten!" I exclaimed.  "O Lu, keep it, or give it away, or something!  I don't want it any longer."

"You're very vehement," she said, laughing now. "I am not afraid of your gods.  Shall I wear them?"

So the rest of the summer Lu twined them round her throat,--amulets of sorcery, orbs of separation; but one night she brought them back to me.  That was last night.  There they lie.

The next day, in the high golden noon, Rose came.  I was on the lounge in the alcove parlor, my hair half steaming out of Lu's net; but he didn't mind.  The light was toned and mellow, the air soft and cool.  He came and sat on the opposite side, so that he faced the wall table with its dish of white, stiflingly sweet lilies, while I looked down the drawing-room.  He had brought a book, and by and by opened at the past commencing, "Do not die, Phene." He read it through;,--all that perfect, perfect scene.  From the moment when he said,

"I overlean

This length of hair and lustrous front--they turn

Like an entire flower upward,"--

his voice low, sustained, clear,--till he reached the line,

"Look at the woman here with the new soul,"--

till he turned the leaf and murmured,

"Shall to produce form out of unshaped stuff

Be art,--and, further, to evoke a soul

From form, be nothing?  This new soul is mine!"--

till then, he never glanced up.  Now, with a proud grace, he raised his head,--not to look at me, but across me, at the lilies, to satiate himself with their odorous snowiness.  When he again pronounced words, his voice was husky and vibrant; but what music dwelt in it and seemed to prolong rather than break the silver silence, as he echoed,

"Some unsuspected isle in the far seas"!

How many read, to descend to a prosaic life!  how few to meet one as rich and full beside them!  The tone grew ever lower; he looked up slowly, fastening his glance on mine.

"And you are ever by me while I gaze,--

Are in my arms as now--as now--as now!"

he said.  He swayed forward with those wild questioning eyes,--his breath blew over my cheek; I was drawn,--I bent; the full passion of his soul broke to being, wrapped me with a blinding light, a glowing kiss on lingering lips, a clasp strong and tender as heaven.  All my hair fell down like a shining cloud and veiled us, the great rolling folds in wave after wave of crisp splendor.  I drew back from that long, silent kiss, I gathered up each gold thread of the straying tresses, blushing, defiant.  He also, he drew back.  But I knew all then.  I had no need to wait longer; I had achieved.  Rose loved me.  Rose had loved me from that first day.--You scarcely hear what I say, I talk so low and fast?  Well, no matter, dear, you wouldn't care.--For a moment that gaze continued; then the lids fell, the face grew utterly white.  He rose, flung the book, crushed and torn, upon the floor, went out, speaking no word to me, nor greeting Louise in the next room.  Could he have seen her?  No.  I, only, had that.  For, as I drew from his arm, a meteoric crimson, shooting across the pale face bent over work there, flashed upon me, and then a few great tears, like sudden thunder-drops, falling slowly and wetting the heavy fingers.  The long mirror opposite her reflected the interior of the alcove parlor.  No,--he could not have seen, he must have felt her.

I wonder whether I should have cared, if I had never met him any more,--happy in this new consciousness.  But in the afternoon he returned, bright and eager.

"Are you so very busy, dear Yone," he said, without noticing Lu, "that you cannot drive with me to-day?"

Busy!  In five minutes I whirled down the avenue beside him.  I had not been Yone to him before.  How quiet we were!  he driving on, bent forward, seeing out and away; I leaning back, my eyes closed, and, whenever a remembrance of that instant at noon thrilled me, a stinging blush staining my cheek.  I, who had believed myself incapable of love, till that night on the balcony, felt its floods welling from my spirit,--who had believed myself so completely cold, was warm to my heart's core.  Again, the breath fanned me, those lips touched mine, lightly, quickly.

"Yone, my Yone!" he said. "Is it true?  No dream within dream?  Do you love me?"

Wistful, longing, tender eyes.

"Do I love you?  I would die for you!"

*    *    *

Ah, me!  If the July days were such, how perfect were the August and September nights!  their young moon's lingering twilight, their full broad bays of silver, their interlunar season!  The winds were warm about us, the whole earth seemed the wealthier for our love.  We almost lived upon the river, he and I alone,--floating seaward, swimming slowly up with late tides, reaching home drenched with dew, parting in passionate silence.  Once he said to me,--

"Is it because it is so much larger, more strange and beautiful, than any other love could be, that I feel guilty, Yone,--feel as if I sinned in loving you so, my great white flower?"

I ought to tell you how splendid papa was, never seemed to consider that Rose had only his art, said I had enough from Aunt Willoughby for both, we should live up there among the mountains, and set off at once to make arrangements.  Lu has a wonderful tact, too,--seeing at once where her path lay.  She is always so well oriented!  How full of peace and bliss these two months have been!  Last night Lu came in here.  She brought back my amber gods, saying she had not intended to keep them, and yet loitering.

"Yone," she said at last, "I want you to tell me if you love him."

Now, as if that were any affair of hers!  I looked what I thought.

"Don't be angry," she pleaded. "You and I have been sisters, have we not? and always shall be.  I love you very much, dear,--more than you may believe; I only want to know if you will make him happy."

"That's according," said I, with a yawn.

She still stood before me.  Her eyes said, "I have a right,--I have a right to know."

"You want me to say how much I love Vaughan Rose?" I asked, finally.  "Well, listen, Lu,--so much, that, when he forgets me,--and he will, Lu, one day,--I shall die."

"Prevent his forgetting you, Yone!" she returned.  "Make your soul white and clear, like his."

"No! no!" I answered.  "He loves me as I am.  I will never change."

Then somehow tears began to come.  I didn't want to cry; I had to crowd them back behind my fingers and shut lids.

"Oh, Lu!  I said, "I cannot think what it would be to live, and he not a part of me!  not for either of us to be in the world without the other!"

Then Lu's tears fell with mine, as she drew her fingers over my hair.  She said she was happy, too; and to-day has been down and gathered everyone, so that, when you see her, her white array will be wreathed with purple heart's-ease.  But I didn't tell Lu quite the truth, you must know.  I don't think I should die, except to my former self, if Rose ceased to love me.  I should change.  Oh, I should hate him!  Hate is as intense as love.

Bless me!  What time can it be?  There are papa and Rose walking in the garden.  I turned out my maid to find chance for all this talk; I must ring for her.  There, there's my hair!  silken coil after coil, full of broken lights, rippling below the knees, fine and fragrant.  Who could have such hair but I?  I am the last of the Willoughbys, a decayed race, and from such strong decay what blossom less gorgeous should spring!

October now.  All the world swings at the top of its beauty; and those hills where we shall live, what robes of color fold them!  Tawny filemot gilding the valleys, each seam and rut a scroll or arabesque, and all the year pouring out her heart's blood to flush the maples, the great empurpled granites warm with the sunshine they have drunk all summer!  So I am to be married today, at noon.  I like it best so; it is my hour.  There is my veil, that regal Venice point.  Fling it round you.  No, you would look like a ghost in one,--Lu like a corpse.  Dear me!  That's the second time I've rung for Carmine.  I dare say the hussy is trying on my gown.  You think it strange I don't delay?  Why, child, why tempt Providence?  Once mine, always mine.  He might wake up.  No, no, I couldn't have meant that!  It is not possible that I have merely led him into a region of richer dyes, lapped him in this vision of color, kindled his heart to such a flame, that it may light him towards further effort.  Can you believe that he will slip from me and return to one in better harmony with him?  Is any one?  Will he ever find himself with that love lost, this love exhausted, only his art left him?  Never! I am his crown.  See me!  I love him!  I cannot, I will not lose him!  I defy all!  My heart's proud pulse assures me!  I defy Fate!  Hush----One,--two,--twelve o'clock. Carmine!

(Story continued--click here)

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