The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Colorado
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Having little else to do, she studied the man and she studied him with a warm desire and an enthusiastic predisposition to find the best in him. She would not have been a human girl if she had not been thrilled to the very heart of her by what the man had done for her. She recognized that whether he asserted it or not, he had established an everlasting and indisputable claim upon her.
The circumstances of their first meeting, which as the days passed did not seem quite so horrible to her, and yet a thought of which would bring the blood to her cheek still on the instant, had in some way turned her over to him. His consideration of her, his gracious tenderness toward her, his absolute abnegation, his evident overwhelming desire to please her, to make the anomalous situation in which they stood to each other bearable in spite of their lonely and unobserved intimacy, by an absolute lack of presumption on his part – all those things touched her profoundly.
Although she did not recognize the fact then, perhaps, she loved him from the moment her eyes had opened in the mist and rain after that awful battle in the torrent to see him bending over her.
No sight that had ever met Enid Maitland's eyes was so glorious, so awe inspiring, so uplifting and magnificent as the view from the verge of the cliff in the sunlight of some bright winter morning. Few women had ever enjoyed such privileges as hers. She did not know whether she liked the winter crowned range best that way, or whether she preferred the snowy world, glittering cold in the moonlight; or even whether it was more attractive when it was dark and the peaks and drifts were only lighted by the stars which shone never so brightly as just above her head.
When he allowed her she loved to stand sometimes in the full fury of the gale with the wind shrieking and sobbing, like lost souls in some icy inferno, through the hills and over the pines, the snow beating upon her, the sleet cutting her face if she dared to turn toward the storm. Generally he left her alone in the quieter moments, but in the tempest he stood watchful, on guard by her side, buttressing her, protecting her, sheltering her. Indeed, his presence then was necessary; without him she could scarce have maintained a footing. The force of the wind might have hurled her down the mountain but for his strong arm. When the cold grew too great he led her back carefully to the hut and the warm fire.
Ah, yes, life and the world were both beautiful to her then, in night, in day, by sunlight, by moonlight, in calm and storm. Yet it made no difference what was spread before the woman's eyes, what glorious picture was exhibited to her gaze, she could not look at it more than a moment without thinking of the man. With the most fascinating panorama that the earth's surface could spread before human vision to engage her attention she looked into her own heart and saw there this man!
Oh, she had fought against it at first, but lately she had luxuriated in it.She loved him, she loved him! And why not? What is it that women love in men? Strength of body? She could remember yet how he had carried her over the mountains in the midst of the storm, how she had been so bravely upborne by his arms to his heart. She realized later what a task that had been, what a feat of strength. The uprooting of that sapling, and the overturning of that huge grizzly were child's play to the long portage up the almost impassable ca?on and mountain side which had brought her to this dear haven.
Was it strength of character she sought, resolution, determination? This man had deliberately withdrawn from the world, buried himself in this mountain; and had stayed there deaf to the alluring call of man or woman; he had had the courage to do that.
Was it strength of mind she admired? Enid Maitland was no mean judge of the mental powers of her acquaintance. She was just as full of life and spirit and the joy of them as any young woman should be, but she had not been trained by and thrown with the best for nothing. Noblesse oblige! That his was a mind well stored with knowledge of the most varied sort she easily and at once perceived. Of course the popular books of the last five years had passed him by, and of such he knew nothing, but he could talk intelligently, interestingly, entertainingly upon the great classics. Keats and Shakespeare were his most thumbed volumes. He had graduated from Harvard as a Civil Engineer with the highest honors of his class and school and the youngest man to get his sheepskin! Enid Maitland herself was a woman of broad culture and wide reading and she deliberately set herself to fathom this man's capabilities. Not infrequently, much to her surprise, sometimes to her dismay, but generally to her satisfaction, she found that she had no plummet with which to sound his greater depths.
Did she seek in him that fine flower of good breeding, gentleness and consideration? Where could she find these qualities better displayed? She was absolutely alone with this man, entirely in his power, shut off from the world and its interference as effectually as if they had both been abandoned on an ice floe at the North Pole or cast away on some lonely island in the South Seas, yet she felt as safe as if she had been in her own house, or her uncle's, with every protection that human power could give. He had never presumed upon the situation in the least degree, he never once referred to the circumstances of their meeting in the remotest way, he never even discussed her rescue from the flood, he never told her how he had borne her through the rain to the lonely shelter of the hills, and in no way did he say anything that the most keenly scrutinizing mind would torture into an allusion to the pool and the bear and the woman. The fineness of his breeding was never so well exhibited as in this reticence. More often than not it is what he does not rather than what he does that indicates the man.
It would be folly to deny that he never thought of these things. Had he forgotten them there would be no merit in his silence; but to remember them and to keep still – aye, that showed the man! He would close his eyes in that little room on the other side of the door and see again the dark pool, her white shoulders, her graceful arms, the lovely face with its crown of sunny hair rising above the rushing water. He had listened to the roar of the wind through the long nights, when she thought him asleep if she thought of him at all, and heard again the scream of the storm that had brought her to his arms. No snow drop that touched his cheek when he was abroad but reminded him of that night in the cold rain when he had held her close and carried her on. He could not sit and mend her boot without remembering that white foot before which he would fain have prostrated himself and upon which he would have pressed passionate kisses if he had given way to his desires. But he kept all these things in his heart, pondered them and made no sign.
Did she ask beauty in her lover? Ah, there at last he failed. According to the canons of perfection he did not measure up to the standard. His features were irregular, his chin a trifle too square, his mouth a thought too firm, his brow wrinkled a little; but he was good to look at, for he looked strong, he looked clean and he looked true. There was about him, too, that stamp of practical efficiency that men who can do things always have. You looked at him and you felt sure that what he undertook, that he would accomplish; that decision and capability were incarnate in him.
But after all the things are said, love goes where it is sent, and I, at least, am not the sender. This woman loved this man neither because nor in spite of these qualities. That they were might account for her affection, but if they had not been, it may be that that affection, that that passion, would have sprung up in her heart still. No one can say, no one can tell how or why those things are. She had loved him while she raged against him and hated him. She did neither the one nor the other of those two last things, now, and she loved him the more.
Mystery is a great mover, there is nothing so attractive as a problem we cannot solve. The very situation of the man, how he came there, what he did there, why he remained there, questions to which she had yet no answer, stimulated her profoundly. Because she did not know she questioned in secret; interest was aroused and the transition to love was easy.
Propinquity, too, is responsible for many an affection. "The ivy clings to the first met tree." Given a man and woman heart free and throw them together and let there be decent kindness on both sides, and it is almost inevitable that each shall love the other. Isolate them from the world, let them see no other companions but the one man and the one woman and the result becomes more inevitable.
Yes, this woman loved this man. She said in her heart – and I am not one to dispute her conclusions – that she would have loved him had he been one among millions to stand before her, and it was true. He was the complement of her nature. They differed in temperament as much as in complexion, and yet in such differences as must always be to make perfect love and perfect union, there were striking resemblances, necessary points of contact.
There was no reason whatever why Enid Maitland should not love this man. The only possible check upon her feelings would have been her rather anomalous relation to Armstrong, but she reflected that she had promised him definitely nothing. When she had met him she had been heart whole, he had made some impression upon her fancy and might have made more with greater opportunity, but unfortunately for him, luckily for her, he had not enjoyed that privilege. She scarcely thought of him longer.
She would not have been human if her mind had not dwelt upon the world beyond the skyline on the other side of the range. She knew how those who loved her must be suffering on account of her disappearance, but knowing herself safe and realizing that within a short time, when the spring came again, she would go back to them and that their mourning would be turned into joy by her arrival, she could not concern herself very greatly over their present feelings and emotions; and besides, what would be the use of worrying over those things. There was subject more attractive for her thoughts close at hand. And she was too blissfully happy to entertain for more than a moment any sorrow.
She pictured her return and never by any chance did she think of going back to civilization alone. The man she loved would be by her side, the church's blessing would make them one. To do her justice in the simplicity and purity of her thoughts she never once thought of what the world might say about that long winter sojourn alone with this man. She was so conscious of her own innocence and of his delicate forbearance, she never once thought how humanity would elevate its brows and fairly cry upon her from the house tops. She did not realize that were she ever so pure and so innocent she could not now or ever reach the high position which C?sar, who was none too reputable himself, would fain have had his wife enjoy?