The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Coloradoскачать книгу бесплатно
The man raved in his mind. White faced, stern, he walked up and down, he tossed his arms about him, he stopped, his eyes closed, he threw his hands up toward God, his heart cried out under the lacerations of the blows inflicted upon it. No flagellant of old ever trembled beneath the body lash as he under the spiritual punishment.
He prayed that he might die at the same moment that he longed to live. He grappled blindly for solutions of the problem that would leave him with untarnished honor and undiminished self-respect and fidelity, and yet give him this woman; and in vain. He strove to find a way to reconcile the past with the present, realizing as he did so the futility of such a proposition. One or the other must be supreme; he must inexorably hold to his ideas and his ideals, or he must inevitably take the woman.
How frightful was the battle that raged within his bosom. Sometimes in his despair he thought that he would have been glad if he and she had gone down together in the dark waters before all this came upon him. The floods of which the heavens had emptied themselves had borne her to him. Oh, if they had only swept him out of life with its trouble, its trials, its anxieties, its obligations, its impossibilities! If they had gone together! And then he knew that he was glad even for the torture, because he had seen her, because he had loved her, and because she had loved him.
He marveled at himself curiously and in a detached way. There was a woman who loved him, who had confessed it boldly and innocently; there were none to say him nay. The woman who stood between had been dead five years, the world knew nothing, cared nothing; they could go out together, he could take her, she would come. On the impulse he turned and ran to the door and beat upon it. Her voice bade him enter and he came in.
Her heart yearned to him. She was shocked, appalled, at the torture she saw upon his face. Had he been laid upon the rack and every joint pulled from its sockets, he could not have been more white and agonized.
"I give up," he cried. "What are honor and self-respect to me? I want you. I have put the past behind. You love me, and I, I am yours with every fiber of my being. Great God! Let us cast aside these foolish quixotic scruples that have kept us apart. If a man's thoughts declare his guilt I am already disloyal to the other woman; deeply, entirely so. I have betrayed her, shamed her, abandoned her. Let me have some compensation for what I have gone through. You love me, come to me."
"No," answered the woman, and no task ever laid upon her had been harder than that. "I do love you, I will not deny it, every part of me responds to your appeal. I should be so happy that I cannot even think of it, if I could put my hand in your own, if I could lay my head upon your shoulder, if I could feel your heart beat against mine, if I could give myself up to you, I would be so glad, so glad. But it can not be, not now."
"Why not?" pleaded the man.
He was by her side, his arm went around her.
She did not resist physically, it would have been useless; she only laid her slender hand upon his broad breast and threw her head back and looked at him.
"See," she said, "how helpless I am, how weak in your hands? Every voice in my heart bids me give way. If you insist I can deny you nothing. I am helpless, alone, but it must not be. I know you better than you know yourself, you will not take advantage of affection so unbounded, of weakness so pitiable."
Was it the wisdom of calculation, or was it the wisdom of instinct by which she chose her course? Resistance would have been unavailing, in weakness was her strength.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!
Yes, that was true. She knew it now if never before, and so did he.
Slowly the man released her. She did not even then draw away from him; she stood with her hand still on his breast, she could feel the beating of his heart beneath her fingers.
"I am right," she said softly. "It kills me to deny you anything, my heart yearns toward you, why should I deny it, it is my glory not my shame."
"There is nothing above love like ours," he pleaded, wondering what marvelous mastery she exercised that she stopped him by a hand's touch, a whispered word, a faith.
"No; love is life, love is God, but even God Himself is under obligations of righteousness. For me to come to you now, to marry you now, to be your wife, would be unholy. There would not be that perfect confidence between us that must endure in that relation. Your honor and mine, your self-respect and mine would interpose. If I can't have you with a clear conscience, if you can't come to me in the same way, we are better apart. Although it kills me, although life without you seems nothing and I would rather not live it, we are better apart. I cannot be your wife until – "
"Until what and until when?" demanded Newbold.
"I don't know," said the woman, "but I believe that somewhere, somehow, we shall find a way out of our difficulty. There is a way," she said a little incautiously, "I know it."
"Show it to me."
"No, I can not."
"The same thing which prevents you, honor, loyalty."
"To a man?"
"To a woman."
"I don't understand."
"No, but you will some day," she smiled at him. "See," she said, "through my tears I can smile at you, though my heart is breaking. I know that in God's good time this will work itself out."
"I can't wait for God, I want you now," persisted the other.
"Hush, don't say that," answered the woman, for a moment laying her hand on his lips. "But I forgive you, I know how you suffer."
The man could say nothing, do nothing. He stared at her a moment and his hand went to his throat as if he were choking.
"Unworthy," he said hoarsely, "unworthy of the past, unworthy of the present, unworthy of the future. May God forgive me, I never can."
"He will forgive you, never fear," answered Enid gently.
"And you?" asked her lover. "I have ruined your life."
"No, you have ennobled it. Let nothing ever make you forget that. Wherever you are and whatever you do and whatever you may have been, I love you and I shall love you to the end. Now you must go, it is so late, I can't stand any more. I throw myself on your mercy again. I grow weaker and weaker before you. As you are a man, as you are stronger, save me from myself. If you were to take me again in your arms," she went on steadily, "I know not how I could drive you back. For God's sake, if you love me – "
That was the hardest thing he had ever done, to turn and go out of the room, out of her sight and leave her standing there with eyes shining, with pulses throbbing, with breath coming fast, with bosom panting. Once more, and at a touch she might have yielded!
THE CUP IS DRAINED
THE CHALLENGE OF THE RANGE
Mr. James Armstrong sat at his desk before the west window of his private room in one of the tallest buildings in Denver. His suite of offices was situated on one of the top floors and from it over the intervening house tops and other buildings, he had a clear and unobstructed view of the mighty range. The earth was covered with snow. It had fallen steadily through the night but with the dawn the air had cleared and the sun had come out brightly although it was very cold.
Letters, papers, documents, the demands of a business extensive and varied, were left unnoticed. He sat with his elbow on the desk and his head on his hand, looking moodily at the range. In the month that had elapsed since he had received news of Enid Maitland's disappearance he had sat often in that way, in that place, staring at the range, a prey to most despondent reflections, heavy hearted and disconsolate indeed.
After that memorable interview with Mr. Stephen Maitland in Philadelphia he had deemed it proper to await there the arrival of Mr. Robert Maitland. A brief conversation with that distracted gentleman had put him in possession of all the facts in the case. As Robert Maitland had said, after his presentation of the tragic story, the situation was quite hopeless. Even Armstrong reluctantly admitted that her uncle and old Kirkby had done everything that was possible for the rescue or discovery of the girl.
Therefore the two despondent gentlemen had shortly after returned to their western homes, Robert Maitland in this instance being accompanied by his brother Stephen. The latter never knew how much his daughter had been to him until this evil fate had befallen her. Robert Maitland had promised to inaugurate a thorough and extensive search to solve the mystery of her death, which he felt was certain, in the spring when the weather permitted humanity to have free course through the mountains.
Mr. Stephen Maitland found a certain melancholy satisfaction in being at least near the place where neither he nor anyone had any doubt his daughter's remains lay hid beneath the snow or ice on the mountains in the freezing cold. Robert Maitland had no other idea than that Enid's body was in the lake. He intended to drain it – an engineering task of no great difficulty – and yet he intended also to search the hills for miles on either side of the main stream down which she had gone; for she might possibly have strayed away and died of starvation and exposure rather than drowning. At any rate he would leave nothing undone to discover her.
He had strenuously opposed Armstrong's recklessly expressed intention of going into the mountains immediately to search for her. Armstrong was not easily moved from any purpose he once entertained or lightly to be hindered from attempting any enterprise that he projected, but by the time the party reached Denver the winter had set in and even he realized the futility of any immediate search for a dead body lost in the mountains. Admitting that Enid was dead the conclusions were sound of course.
The others pointed out to Armstrong that if the woman they all loved had by any fortunate chance escaped the cloud burst she must inevitably have perished from cold, starvation and exposure in the mountain long since. There was scarcely a possibility that she could have escaped the flood, but if she had it would only to be devoted to death a little later. If she was not in the lake what remained of her would be in some lateral ca?on. It would be impossible to discover her body in the deep snows until the spring and the warm weather came. When the snows melted what was concealed would be revealed. Alone, she could do nothing. And admitting again that Enid was alone this conclusion was as sound as the other.
Now no one had the faintest hope that Enid Maitland was yet alive except perhaps her father, Mr. Stephen Maitland. They could not convince him, he was so old and set in his opinions and so utterly unfamiliar with the conditions that they tried to describe to him, that he clung to his belief in spite of all, and finally they let him take such comfort as he could from his vain hope without any further attempt at contradiction.
In spite of all the arguments, however, Mr. James Armstrong was not satisfied. He was as hopeless as the rest, but his temperament would not permit him to accept the inevitable calmly. It was barely possible that she might not be dead and that she might not be alone. There was scarcely enough possibility of this to justify a suspicion, but that is not saying there was none at all.
Day after day he had sat in his office denying himself to everyone and refusing to consider anything, brooding over the situation. He loved Enid Maitland, he loved her before and now that he had lost her he loved her still more.
Not altogether admirable had been James Armstrong's outwardly successful career. In much that is high and noble and manly his actions – and his character – had often been lacking, but even the base can love and sometimes love transforms if it be given a chance. The passion of Cymon for Iphigenia, made a man and prince out of the rustic boor. His real love for Enid Maitland might have done more for Armstrong than he himself or anyone who knew him as he was – and few there were who had such knowledge of him – dreamed was possible. There was one thing that love could not do, however; it could not make him a patient philosopher, a good waiter. His rule of life was not very high, but in one way it was admirable in that prompt bold decisive action was its chiefest characteristic.
On this certain morning a month after the heart breaking disaster his power of passive endurance had been strained to the vanishing point. The great white range was flung in his face like a challenge. Within its secret recesses lay the solution of the mystery. Somewhere, dead or alive, beyond the soaring rampart was the woman he loved. It was impossible for him to remain quiet any longer. Common sense, reason, every argument that had been adduced, suddenly became of no weight. He lifted his head and stared straight westward. His eyes swept the long semi-circle of the horizon across which the mighty range was drawn like the chord of a gigantic arc or the string of a mighty bow. Each white peak mocked him, the insolent aggression of the range called him irresistibly to action.
"By God," he said under his breath, rising to his feet, "winter or no winter, I go."
Robert Maitland had offices in the same building. Having once come to a final determination there was no more uncertainty or hesitation about Armstrong's course. In another moment he was standing in the private room of his friend. The two men were not alone there. Stephen Maitland sat in a low chair before another window removed from the desk somewhat, staring out at the range. The old man was huddled down in his seat, every line of his figure spoke of grief and despair. Of all the places in Denver he liked best his brother's office fronting the rampart of the mountains, and hour after hour he sat there quietly looking at the summits, sometimes softly shrouded in white, sometimes swept bare by the fierce winter gales that blew across them, sometimes shining and sparkling so that the eye could scarce sustain their reflection of the dazzling sun of Colorado; and at other times seen dimly through mists of whirling snow.
Oh, yes, the mountains challenged him also to the other side of the range. His heart yearned for his child, but he was too old to make the attempt. He could only sit and pray and wait with such faint and fading hope as he could still cherish until the break up of the spring came. For the rest he troubled nobody; nobody noticed him, nobody marked him, nobody minded him. Robert Maitland transacted his business a little more softly, a little more gently, that was all. Yet the presence of his brother was a living grief and a living reproach to him. Although he was quite blameless he blamed himself. He did not know how much he had grown to love his niece until he had lost her. His conscience accused him hourly, and yet he knew not where he was at fault or how he could have done differently. It was a helpless and hopeless situation. To him, therefore, entered Armstrong.
"Maitland," he began, "I can't stand it any longer, I'm going into the mountains."
"You are mad!"
"I can't help it. I can't sit here and face them, damn them, and remain quiet."
"You will never come out alive."
"Oh, yes I will, but if I don't I swear to God I don't care."
Old Stephen Maitland rose unsteadily to his feet and gripped the back of his chair.
"Did I hear aright, sir?" he asked with all the polished and graceful courtesy of birth and breeding which never deserted him in any emergency whatsoever. "Do you say – "
"I said I was going into the mountains to search for her."
"It is madness," urged Robert Maitland.
But the old man did not hear him.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed with deep feeling. "I have sat here day after day and watched those mighty hills, and I have said to myself that if I had youth and strength as I have love, I would not wait."
"You are right," returned Armstrong, equally moved, and indeed it would have been hard to have heard and seen that father unresponsively, "and I am not going to wait either."
"I understand your feeling, Jim, and yours too, Steve," began Robert Maitland, arguing against his own emotions, "but even if she escaped the flood, she must be dead by this time."
"You needn't go over the old arguments, Bob. I'm going into the mountains and I'm going now. No," he continued swiftly, as the other opened his mouth to interpose further objections, "you needn't say another word. I'm a free agent and I'm old enough to decide what I can do. There is no argument, there is no force, there is no appeal, there is nothing that will restrain me. I can't sit here and eat my heart out when she may be there."
"But it's impossible!"
"It isn't impossible. How do I know that there may not have been somebody in the mountains, she may have wandered to some settlement, some hunter's cabin, some prospector's hut."
"But we were there for weeks and saw nothing, no evidence of humanity."
"I don't care. The mountains are filled with secret nooks you could pass by within a stone's throw and never see into, she may be in one of them. I suppose she is dead and it's all foolish, this hope, but I'll never believe it until I have examined every square rod within a radius of fifty miles from your camp. I'll take the long chance, the longest even."
"Well, that's all right," said Robert Maitland. "Of course I intend to do that as soon as the spring opens, but what's the use of trying to do it now?"
"It's use to me. I'll either go mad here in Denver, or I must go to seek for her there."
"But you will never come back if you once get in those mountains alone."
"I don't care whether I do or not. It's no use, old man, I am going and that's all there is about it."
Robert Maitland knew men, he recognized finality when he heard it or when he saw it and it was quite evident that he was in the presence of it then. It was of no use for him or anyone to say more.
"Very well," he said, "I honor you for your feeling even if I don't think much of your common sense."
"Damn common sense," cried Armstrong triumphantly, "it's love that moves me now."
At that moment there was a tap on the door. A clerk from an outer office bidden to enter announced that old Kirkby was in the ante-room.
"Bring him in," directed Maitland, eager to welcome him.
He fancied that the new comer would undoubtedly assist him in dissuading Armstrong from his foolhardy, useless enterprise.
"Mornin', old man," drawled Kirkby.
"Howdy, Armstrong. My respects to you, sir," he said, sinking his voice a little as he bowed respectfully toward Mr. Stephen Maitland, a very sympathetic look in the old frontiersman's eyes at the sight of the bereaved father.
"Kirkby, you've come in the very nick of time," at once began Robert Maitland.
"Allus glad to be Johnny-on-the-spot," smiled the older man.
"Armstrong here," continued the other intent upon his purpose, "says he can't wait until the spring and the snows melt, he is going into the mountains now to look for Enid."
Kirkby did not love Armstrong, he did not care for him a little bit, but there was something in the bold hardihood of the man, something in the way which he met the reckless challenge of the mountains that the old man and all the others felt that moved the inmost soul of the hardy frontiersman. He threw an approving glance at him.
"I tell him that it is absurd, impossible; that he risks his life for nothing, and I want you to tell him the same thing. You know more about the mountains than either of us."
"Mr. Kirkby," quavered Stephen Maitland, "allow me. I don't want to influence you against your better judgment, but if you could sit here as I have done and think that maybe she is there and perhaps alive still, and in need, you would not say a word to deter him."
"Why, Steve," expostulated Robert Maitland, "surely you know I would risk anything for Enid; somehow it seems as if I were being put in the selfish position by my opposition."
"No, no," said his brother, "it isn't that. You have your wife and children, but this young man – "
"Well, what do you say, Kirkby? Not that it makes any difference to me what anybody says. Come, we are wasting time," interposed Armstrong, who, now that he had made up his mind, was anxious to be off.
"Jim Armstrong," answered Kirkby decidedly, "I never thought much of you in the past, an' I think sence you've put out this last projick of yourn that I'm entitled to call you a damn fool, w'ich you are, an' I'm another, for I'm goin' into the mountains with you."
"Oh, thank God!" cried Stephen Maitland fervently.
"I know you don't like me," answered Armstrong; "that's neither here nor there. Perhaps you have cause to dislike me, perhaps you have not; I don't like you any too well myself; but there is no man on earth I'd rather have go with me on a quest of this kind than you, and there's my hand on it."
Kirkby shook it vigorously.
"This ain't committin' myself," he said cautiously. "So far's I'm concerned you ain't good enough for Miss Maitland, but I admires your spirit, Armstrong, an' I'm goin' with you. Tain't no good, twon't produce nothin', most likely we'll never come back agin; but jest the same I'm goin' along; nobody's goin' to show me the trail; my nerve and grit w'en it comes to helpin' a young feemale like that girl is as good as anybody's I guess. You're her father," he drawled on, turning to Stephen Maitland, "an' I ain't no kin to her, but by gosh, I believe I can understand better than anyone else yere what you are feelin'."скачать книгу бесплатно
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