The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Colorado
скачать книгу бесплатно
Every kind of an argument in addition to those so passionately adduced in these letters urging her to break away from her husband and to seek happiness for herself while yet there was time, had besieged her heart, had seconded her lover's plea and had assailed her will, and yet she had not given way.
Now Enid Maitland hated the woman who had enjoyed the first young love of the man she herself loved. She hated her because of her priority of possession, because her memory yet came between her and that man. She hated her because Newbold was still true to her memory, because Newbold, believing in the greatness of her passion for him, thought it shame and dishonor to his manhood to be false to her, no matter what love and longing drew him on.
Yet there was a stern sense of justice in the bosom of this young woman. She exulted in the successful battle the poor woman had waged for the preservation of her honor and her good name, against such odds. It was a sex triumph for which she was glad. She was proud of her for the stern rigor with which she had refused to take the easiest way and the desperation with which she had clung to him she did not love, but to whom she was bound by the laws of God and man, in order that she might not fall into the arms of the man she did love, in defiance of right.
Enid Maitland and this woman were as far removed from each other as the opposite poles of the earth, but there was yet a common quality in each one, of virtuous womanhood, of lofty morality. Natural, perhaps, in the one and to be expected; unnatural, perhaps, and to be unexpected in the other, but there! Now that she knew what love was and what its power and what its force – for all that she had felt and experienced and dreamed about before were as nothing to what it was since he had spoken – she could understand what the struggle must have been in that woman's heart. She could honor her, reverence her, pity her.
She could understand the feeling of the man, too, she could think much more clearly than he. He was distracted by two passions, for his pride and his honor and for her; she had as yet but one, for him. And as there was less turmoil and confusion in her mind, she was the more capable of looking the facts in the face and making the right deduction from them.
She could understand how in the first frightful rush of his grief and remorse and love the very fact that Newbold had been compelled to kill his wife, of whom she guessed he was beginning to grow a little weary, under such circumstances had added immensely to his remorse and quickened his determination to expiate his guilt and cherish her memory. She could understand why he would do just as he had done, go into the wilderness to be alone in horror of himself and in horror of his fellow men, to think only, mistakenly, of her.
Now he was paying the penalty of that isolation. Men were made to live with one another, and no one could violate that law natural, or by so long an inheritance as to have so become, without paying that penalty.His ideas of loyalty and fidelity were warped, his conceptions of his duty were narrow. There was something noble in his determination, it is true, but there was something also very foolish. The dividing line between wisdom and folly is sometimes as indefinite as that between comedy and tragedy, between laughter and tears. If the woman he had married and killed had only hated him and he had known, it would have been different, but since he believed so in her love he could do nothing else.
At that period in her reflections Enid Maitland saw a great light. The woman had not loved her husband after all, she had loved another. That passion of which he had dreamed had not been for him. By a strange chain of circumstances Enid Maitland held in her hand the solution of the problem. She had but to give him these letters to show him that his golden image had stood upon feet of clay, that the love upon which he had dwelt was not his. Once convinced of that he would come quickly to her arms. She cried a prayer of blessing on old Kirkby and started to her feet, the letters in hand, to call Newbold back to her and tell him, and then she stopped.
Woman as she was, she had respect for the binding conditions and laws of honor as well as he. Chance, nay, Providence, had put the honor of this woman, her rival, in her hands. The world had long since forgotten this poor unfortunate; in no heart was her memory cherished save in that of her husband. His idea of her was a false one, to be sure, but not even to procure her own happiness could Enid Maitland overthrow that ideal, shatter that memory.
She sat down again with the letters in her hand. It had been very simple a moment since, but it was not so now. She had but to show him those letters to remove the great barrier between them. She could not do it. It was clearly impossible. The reputation of her dead sister who had struggled so bravely to the end was in her hands, she could not sacrifice her even for her own happiness.
Quixotic, you say? I do not think so. She had blundered unwittingly, unwillingly, upon the heart secret of the other woman, she could not betray it. Even if the other woman had been really unfaithful in deed as well as in thought to her husband, Enid could hardly have destroyed his recollection of her. How much more impossible it was since the other woman had fought so heroically and so successfully for her honor. Womanhood demanded her silence. Loyalty, honor, compelled her silence.
A dead hand grasped his heart and the same dead hand grasped hers. She could see no way out of the difficulty. So far as she knew, no human soul except old Kirkby and herself knew this woman's story. She could not tell Newbold and she would have to impose upon Kirkby the same silence as she herself exercised. There was absolutely no way in which the man could find out. He must cherish his dream as he would. She would not enlighten him, she would not disabuse his mind, she could not shatter his ideal, she could not betray his wife. They might love as the angels of heaven and yet be kept forever apart – by a scruple, an idea, a principle, an abstraction, honor, a name.
Her mind told her these things were idle and foolish, but her soul would not hear of it. And in spite of her resolutions she felt that eventually there would be some way. She would not have been a human woman if she had not hoped and prayed that. She believed that God had created them for each other, that He had thrown them together. She was enough of a fatalist in this instance at least to accept their intimacy as the result of His ordination. There must be some way out of the dilemma.
Yet she knew that he would be true to his belief, and she felt that she would not be false to her obligation. What of that? There would be some way. Perhaps somebody else knew, and then there flashed into her mind the writer of the letters. Who was he? Was he yet alive? Had he any part to play in this strange tragedy aside from that he had already essayed?
Sometimes an answer to a secret query is made openly. At this juncture Newbold came back. He stopped before her unsteadily, his face now marked not only by the fierceness of the storm outside, but by the fiercer grapple of the storm in his heart.
"You have a right," he began, "to know everything now. I can withhold nothing from you."
He had in his hand a picture and something yellow that gleamed in the light. "There," he continued, extending them toward her, "is the picture of the poor woman, who loved me and whom I killed, you saw it once before."
"Yes," she nodded, taking it from him carefully and looking again in a strange commixture of pride, resentment and pity at the bold, somewhat coarse, entirely uncultured, yet handsome face which gave no evidence of the moral purpose which she had displayed.
"And here," said the man, offering the other article, "is something that no human eye but mine has ever seen since that day. It is a locket I took from her neck. Until you came I wore it next my heart."
"And since then?"
"Since then I have been unworthy her as I am unworthy you, and I have put it aside."
"Does it contain another picture?"
"A man's face."
He shook his head.
"Look and see," he answered. "Press the spring."
Suiting action to word the next second Enid Maitland found herself gazing upon the pictured semblance of Mr. James Armstrong!
She was utterly unable to suppress an exclamation and a start of surprise at the astonishing revelation. The man looked at her curiously, he opened his mouth to question her, but she recovered herself in part at least and swiftly interrupted him in a panic of terror lest she should betray her knowledge.
"And what is the picture of another man doing in your wife's locket?" she asked to gain time, for she very well knew the reply; knew it, indeed, better than Newbold himself; who, as it happened, was equally in the dark both as to the man and the reason.
"I don't know," answered the other.
"Did you know this man?"
"I never saw him in my life that I can recall."
"And have you – did you – "
"Did I suspect my wife?" he asked. "Never. I had too many evidences that she loved me and me alone for a ghost of suspicion to enter my mind. It may have been a brother, or her father in his youth."
"And why did you wear it?"
"Because I took it from her dead heart. Some day I shall find out who the man is, and when I shall I know there will be nothing to her discredit in the knowledge."
Enid Maitland nodded her head. She closed the locket, laid it on the table and pushed it away from her. So this was the man the woman had loved, who had begged her to go away with him, this handsome Armstrong who had come within an ace of winning her own affection, to whom she was in some measure pledged!
How strangely does fate work out its purposes. Enid had come from the Atlantic seaboard to be the second woman that both these two men loved!
If she ever saw Mr. James Armstrong again, and she had no doubt that she would, she would have some strange things to say to him. She held in her hands now all the threads of the mystery, she was master of all the solutions, and each thread was as a chain that bound her.
"My friend," she said at last with a deep sigh, "you must forget this night and go on as before. You love me, thank God for that, but honor and respect interpose between us. And I love you, and I thank God for that, too, but for me as well the same barrier rises. Whether we shall ever surmount these barriers God alone knows. He brought us together, He put that love in our hearts, we will have to leave it to Him to do as He will with us both. Meanwhile we must go on as before."
"No," cried the man, "you impose upon me tasks beyond my strength; you don't know what love like mine is, you don't know the heart hunger, the awful madness I feel. Think, I have been alone with a recollection for all these years, a man in the dark, in the night, and the light comes, you are here. The first night I brought you here I walked that room on the other side of that narrow door like a lion pent up in bars of steel. I had only my own love, my own passionate adoration to move me then, but now that I know you love me, that I see it in your eyes, that I hear it from your lips, that I mark it in the beat of your heart, can I keep silent? Can I live on and on? Can I see you, touch you, breathe the same air with you, be shut up in the same room with you hour after hour, day after day, and go on as before? I can't do it; it is an impossibility. What keeps me now from taking you in my arms and from kissing the color into your cheeks, from making your lips my own, from drinking the light from your eyes?" He swayed near to her, his voice rose, "What restrains me?" he demanded.
"Nothing," said the woman, never shrinking back an inch, facing him with all the courage and daring with which a goddess might look upon a man. "Nothing but my weakness and your strength."
"Yes, that's it; but do not count too much upon the one or the other. Great God, how can I keep away from you. Life on the old terms is insupportable. I must go."
"Anywhere, so it be away."
"It would be death in the snow and in the mountains to-night. No, no, you can not go."
"Well, to-morrow then. It will be fair, I can't take you with me, but I must go alone to the settlements, I must tell your friends you are here, alive, well. I shall find men to come back and get you. What I cannot do alone numbers together may effect. They can carry you over the worst of the trails, you shall be restored to your people, to your world again. You can forget me."
"And do you think?" asked the woman, "that I could ever forget you?"
"I don't know."
"And will you forget me?"
"Not as long as life throbs in my veins, and beyond."
"And I too," was the return.
"So be it. You won't be afraid to stay here alone, now."
"No, not since you love me," was the noble answer. "I suppose I must, there is no other way, we could not go on as before. And you will come back to me as quickly as you can with the others?"
"I shall not come back. I will give them the direction, they can find you without me. When I say good-by to you to-morrow it shall be forever."
"And I swear to you," asserted the woman in quick desperation, "if you do not come back, they shall have nothing to carry from here but my dead body. You do not alone know what love is," she cried resolutely, "and I will not let you go unless I have your word to return."
"And how will you prevent my going?"
"I can't. But I will follow you on my hands and knees in the snow until I freeze and die unless I have your promise."
"You have beaten me," said the man hopelessly. "You always do. Honor, what is it? Pride, what is it? Self respect, what is it? Say the word and I am at your feet, I put the past behind me."
"I don't say the word," answered the woman bravely, white faced, pale lipped, but resolute. "To be yours, to have you mine, is the greatest desire of my heart, but not in the coward's way, not at the expense of honor, of self respect – no not that way. Courage, my friend, God will show us the way, and meantime good night."
"I shall start in the morning."
"Yes," she nodded reluctantly but knowing it had to be, "but you won't go without bidding me good-bye."
"Good night then," she said extending her hand.
"Good night," he whispered hoarsely and refused it backing away. "I don't dare to take it. I don't dare to touch you again. I love you so, my only salvation is to keep away."