CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON
Not many years ago the shore bordering the head of Lake Michigan, the northern curve of that silver sea, was a wilderness unexplored. It is a wilderness still, showing even now on the school-maps nothing save an empty waste of colored paper, generally a pale, cold yellow suitable to the climate, all the way from Point St. Ignace to the iron ports on the Little Bay de Noquet, or Badderknock in lake phraseology, a hundred miles of nothing, according to the map-makers, who, knowing nothing of the region, set it down accordingly, withholding even those long-legged letters, 'Chip-pe-was,' 'Ric-ca-rees,' that stretch accommodatingly across so much townless territory farther west. This northern curve is and always has been off the route to anywhere; and mortals, even Indians, prefer as a general rule, when once started, to go somewhere. The earliest Jesuit explorers and the captains of yesterday's schooners had this in common, that they could not, being human, resist a cross-cut; and thus, whether bark canoes of two centuries ago or the high, narrow propellers of to-day, one and all, coming and going, they veer to the southeast or west, and sail gayly out of sight, leaving this northern curve of ours unvisited and alone. A wilderness still, but not unexplored; for that railroad of the future which is to make of British America a garden of roses, and turn the wild trappers of the Hudson's Bay Company into gently smiling congressmen, has it not sent its missionaries thither, to the astonishment and joy of the beasts that dwelt therein? According to tradition, these men surveyed the territory, and then crossed over (those of them at least whom the beasts had spared) to the lower peninsula, where, the pleasing variety of swamps being added to the labyrinth of pines and sand-hills, they soon lost themselves, and to this day have never found what they lost. As the gleam of a camp-fire is occasionally seen, and now and then a distant shout heard by the hunter passing along the outskirts, it is supposed, that they are in there somewhere surveying still.
Not long ago, however, no white man's foot had penetrated within our curve. Across the great river and over the deadly plains, down to the burning clime of Mexico and up to the arctic darkness, journeyed our countrymen, gold to gather and strange countries to see; but this little pocket of land and water passed they by without a glance, inasmuch as no iron mountains rose among its pines, no copper lay hidden in its sand ridges, no harbors dented its shores. Thus it remained an unknown region, and enjoyed life accordingly. But the white man's foot, well booted, was on the way, and one fine afternoon came tramping through. 'I wish I was a tree,' said this white man, one Jarvis Waring by name. 'See that young pine, how lustily it grows, feeling its life to the very tip of each green needle! How it thrills in the sun's rays, how strongly, how completely it carries out the intention of its existence! It never, has a headache, it—Bah! what a miserable, half-way thing is man, who should be a demigod, and is—a creature for the very trees to pity!' And then he built his camp-fire, called in his dogs, and slept the sleep of youth and health, none the less deep because of that Spirit of Discontent that had driven him forth, into the wilderness; probably the Spirit of Discontent knew what it was about. Thus for days, for weeks, our white man wandered through the forest and wandered at random, for, being an exception, he preferred to go nowhere; he had his compass, but never used it, and, a practised hunter, eat what came in his way and planned not for the morrow. 'Now am I living the life of a good, hearty, comfortable bear,' he said to himself with satisfaction.
'No, you are not, Waring,' replied the Spirit of Discontent, 'for you know you have your compass in your pocket and can direct yourself back to the camps on Lake Superior or to the Sault for supplies, which is more than the most accomplished bear can do.'
'O come, what do you know about bears?' answered Waring; 'very likely they too have their depots of supplies,—in caves perhaps—'
'No caves here.'
'In hollow trees, then.'
'You are thinking of the stories about bears and wild honey,' said the pertinacious Spirit.
'Shut up, I am going to sleep,' replied the man, rolling himself in his blanket; and then the Spirit, having accomplished his object, smiled blandly and withdrew.
Wandering thus, all reckoning lost both of time and place, our white man came out one evening unexpectedly upon a shore; before him was water stretching away grayly in the fog-veiled moonlight; and so successful had been his determined entangling of himself in the webs of the wilderness, that he really knew not whether it was Superior, Huron or Michigan that confronted him, for all three bordered on the eastern end of the upper peninsula. Not that he wished to know; precisely the contrary. Glorifying himself in his ignorance, he built a fire on the sands, and leaning back against the miniature cliffs that guard the even beaches of the inland seas, he sat looking out over the water, smoking a comfortable pipe of peace, and listening meanwhile to the regular wash of the waves. Some people are born with rhythm in their souls, and some not; to Jarvis Waring everything seemed to keep time, from the songs of the birds to the chance words of a friend; and during all this pilgrimage through the wilderness, when not actively engaged in quarrelling with the Spirit, he was repeating bits of verses and humming fragments of songs that kept time with his footsteps, or rather they were repeating and humming themselves along through his brain, while he sat apart and listened. At this moment the fragment that came and went apropos of nothing was Shakespeare's sonnet,
'When to the sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past.'
Now the small waves came in but slowly, and the sonnet in keeping time with their regular wash, dragged its syllables so dolorously that at last the man woke to the realisation that something was annoying him.
'When to—the ses—sions of—sweet si—lent thought,'
chanted the sonnet and waves together.
'O double it, double it, can't you?' said the man impatiently, 'this way:—
"When to the ses—sions of sweet si—lent thought, te-tum, —te-tum, te-tum."
But no; the waves and the lines persisted in their own idea, and the listener finally became conscious of a third element against him, another sound which kept time with the obstinate two and encouraged them in obstinacy,—the dip of light oars somewhere out in the gray mist.
'When to—the ses—sions of—sweet si—lent thought, I sum—mon up—remem—brance of—things past,'
chanted the sonnet and the waves and the oars together, and went duly on, sighing the lack of many things they sought away down to that 'dear friend' who in some unexplained way made all their 'sorrows end.' Even then, while peering through the fog and wondering where and what was this spirit boat that one could hear but not see, Waring found time to make his usual objections. 'This summoning up remembrance of things past, sighing the lack, weeping afresh, and so forth, is all very well,' he remarked to himself, 'we all do it. But that friend who sweeps in at the death with his opportune dose of comfort is a poetical myth whom I, for one, have never yet met.'
'That is because you do not deserve such a friend,' answered the Spirit, briskly reappearing on the scene. 'A man who flies in the wilderness to escape—'
'Spirit, are you acquainted with a Biblical personage named David?' interrupted Waring, executing a flank movement.
The spirit acknowledged the acquaintance, but cautiously, as not knowing what was coming next.
'Did he or did he not have anything to say about flying to wildernesses and mountain-tops? Did he or did he not express wishes to sail thither in person?'
'David had a voluminous way of making remarks,' replied the Spirit, 'and I do not pretend to stand up for them all. But one thing is certain; whatever he may have wished, in a musical way, regarding wildernesses and mountain-tops, when it came to the fact he did not go. And why? Because he—'
'Had no wings,' said Waring, closing the discussion with a mighty yawn. 'I say, Spirit, take yourself off. Something is coming ashore, and were it old Nick in person I should be glad to see him and shake his clawed hand.'
As he spoke out of the fog and into the glare of the fire shot a phantom skiff, beaching itself straight and swift at his feet, and so suddenly that he had to withdraw them like a flash to avoid the crunch of the sharp bows across the sand. 'Always let the other man speak first,' he thought; 'this boomerang of a boat has a shape in it, I see.'
The shape rose, and, leaning on its oar, gazed at the camp and its owner in silence. It seemed to be an old man, thin and bent, with bare arms, and a yellow handkerchief bound around its head, drawn down almost to the eyebrows, which, singularly bushy and prominent, shaded the deep-set eyes, and hid their expression.
'But supposing he won't, don't stifle yourself,' continued Waring; then aloud, 'Well, old gentleman, where do you come from?'
'And where are you going?'
'Couldn't you take me with you? I have been trying all my life to go nowhere, but never could learn the way: do what I would, I always found myself going in the opposite direction, namely, somewhere.'
To this the shape replied nothing, but gazed on.
'Do the nobodies reside in Nowhere, I wonder,' pursued the smoker; 'because if they do, I am afraid I shall meet all my friends and relatives. What a pity the somebodies could not reside there! But perhaps they do; cynics would say so.'
But at this stage the shape waved its oar impatiently and demanded, 'Who are you?'
'Well I do not exactly know. Once I supposed I was Jarvis Waring, but the wilderness has routed that prejudice. We can be anybody we please; it is only a question of force or will; and my latest character has been William Shakespeare. I have been trying to find out whether I wrote my own plays. Stay to supper and take the other side; it is long since I have had an argument with flesh and blood. And you are that,—aren't you?'
But the shape frowned until it seemed all eyebrow. 'Young man,' it said, 'how came you here? By water?'
'No; by land.'
'No; through the woods.'
'Nobody ever comes through the woods.'
'Agreed; but I am somebody.'
'Do you mean that you have come across from Lake Superior on foot?'
'I landed on the shore of Lake Superior a month or two ago, and struck inland the same day; where I am now I neither know nor want to know.'
'Very well,' said the shape,—'very well.' But it scowled more gently. 'You have no boat?'
'Do you start on to-morrow?'
'Probably; by that time the waves and "the sessions of sweet silent thought" will have driven me distracted between them.'
'I will stay to supper, I think,' said the shape, unbending still farther, and stepping out of the skiff.
'Deeds before words then,' replied Waring, starting back towards a tree where his game-bag and knapsack were standing. When he returned the skiff had disappeared; but the shape was warming its moccassined feet in a very human sort of way. They cooked and eat with the appetites of the wilderness, and grew sociable after a fashion. The shape's name was Fog, Amos Fog, or old Fog, a fisherman and a hunter among the islands farther to the south; he had come inshore to see what that fire meant, no person having camped there in fifteen long years.
'You have been here all that time, then?'
'Off and on, off and on; I live a wandering life,' replied old Fog; and then, with the large curiosity that solitude begets, he turned the conversation back towards the other and his story.
The other, not unwilling to tell his adventures, began readily; and the old man listened, smoking meanwhile a second pipe produced from the compact stores in the knapsack. In the web of encounters and escapes, he placed his little questions now and then; no, Waring had no plan for exploring the region, no intention of settling there, was merely idling away a summer in the wilderness and would then go back to civilization never to return, at least, not that way; might go west across the plains, but that would be farther south. They talked on, one much, the other little; after a time, Waring, whose heart had been warmed by his flask, began to extol his ways and means.
'Live? I live like a prince,' he said. 'See these tin cases; they contain concentrated stores of various kinds. I carry a little tea, you see, and even a few lumps of white sugar as a special treat now and then on a wet night.
'Did you buy that sugar at the Sault?' said the old man, eagerly.
'O no; I brought it up from below. For literature I have this small edition of Shakespeare's sonnets, the cream of the whole world's poetry; and when I am tired of looking at the trees and the sky, I look at this, Titian's lovely daughter with her upheld salver of fruit. Is she not beautiful as a dream?'
'I don't know much about dreams,' replied old Fog, scanning the small picture with curious eyes 'but isn't she a trifle heavy in build? They dress like that nowadays, I suppose,—flowered gowns and gold chains around the waist?'
'Why, man, that picture was painted more than three centuries ago.'
'Was it now? Women don't alter much, do they?' said old Fog, simply. 'Then they don't dress like that nowadays?'
'I don't know how they dress, and don't care,' said the younger man, repacking his treasures.
Old Fog concluded to camp with his new friend that night and be off at dawn. 'You see it is late,' he said, 'and your fire's all made and everything comfortable. I've a long row before me to-morrow: I'm on my way to the Beavers.'
'Ah! very intelligent animals, I am told. Friends of yours?'
'Why, they're islands, boy; Big and Little Beaver! What do you know, if you don't know the Beavers?'
'Man,' replied Waring. 'I flatter myself I know the human animal well; he is a miserable beast.'
'Is he?' said old Fog, wonderingly; 'who'd have thought it!' Then, giving up the problem as something beyond his reach,—'Don't trouble yourself if you hear me stirring in the night,' he said; 'I am often mighty restless.' And rolling himself in his blanket, he soon became, at least as regards the camp-fire and sociability, a nonentity.
'Simple-minded old fellow,' thought Waring, lighting a fresh pipe; 'has lived around here all his life apparently. Think of that,—to have lived around here all one's life! I, to be sure, am here now; but then, have I not been—' And here followed a revery of remembrances, that glittering network of gayety and folly which only young hearts can weave, the network around whose border is written in a thousand hues, 'Rejoice, young man, in thy youth, for it cometh not again.'
'Alas, what sighs from our boding hearts The infinite skies have borne away!'
sings a poet of our time; and the same thought lies in many hearts unexpressed, and sighed itself away in this heart of our Jarvis Waring that still foggy evening on the beach.
The middle of the night, the long watch before dawn; ten chances to one against his awakening! A shape is moving towards the bags hanging on the distant tree. How the sand crunches,—but he sleeps on. It reaches the bags, this shape, and hastily, rifles them; then it steals back and crosses the sand again, its moccasined feet making no sound. But, as it happened, that one chance (which so few of us ever see!) appeared on the scene at this moment and guided these feet directly towards a large, thin, old shell masked with newly blown sand; it broke with a crack; Waring woke and gave chase. The old man was unarmed, he had noticed that; and then such a simple-minded, harmless old fellow! But simple-minded, harmless old fellows do not run like mad if one happens to wake; so the younger pursued. He was strong, he was fleet; but the shape was fleeter, and the space between them grew wider. Suddenly the shape turned and darted into the water, running out until only its head was visible above the surface, a dark spot in the foggy moonlight. Waring pursued, and saw meanwhile another dark spot beyond, an empty skiff which came rapidly inshore-ward, until it met the head, which forthwith took to itself a body, clambered in, lifted the oars, and was gone in an instant.
'Well,' said Waring, still pursuing down the gradual slope of the beach, 'will a phantom bark come at my call, I wonder? At any rate I will go out as far as he did and see.' But no; the perfidious beach at this instant shelved off suddenly and left him afloat in deep water. Fortunately he was a skilled swimmer, and soon regained the shore wet and angry. His dogs were whimpering at a distance, both securely fastened to trees, and the light of the fire had died down: evidently the old Fog was not, after all, so simple as some other people!
'I might as well see what the old rogue has taken,' thought Waring; 'all the tobacco and whiskey, I'll be bound.' But nothing had been touched save the lump-sugar, the little book, and the picture of Titian's daughter! Upon this what do you suppose Waring did? He built a boat.
When it was done, and it took some days and was nothing but a dug-out after all (the Spirit said that), he sailed out into the unknown; which being interpreted means that he paddled southward. From the conformation of the shore, he judged that he was in a deep curve, protected in a measure from the force of wind and wave. 'I'll find that ancient mariner,' he said to himself, 'if I have to circumnavigate the entire lake. My book of sonnets, indeed, and my Titian picture! Would nothing else content him? This voyage I undertake from a pure inborn sense of justice—'
'Now, Waring, you know it is nothing of the kind,' said the Spirit who had sailed also. 'You know you are tired of the woods and dread going back that way, and you know you may hit a steamer off the islands; besides, you are curious about this old man who steals Shakespeare and sugar, leaving tobacco and whiskey untouched.'
'Spirit,' replied the man at the paddle, 'you fairly corrupt me with your mendacity. Be off and unlimber yourself in the fog; I see it coming in.'
He did see it indeed; in it rolled upon him in columns, a soft silvery cloud enveloping everything, the sunshine, the shore, and the water, so that he paddled at random, and knew not whither he went, or rather saw not, since knowing was long since out of the question. 'This is pleasant,' he said to himself when the morning had turned to afternoon and the afternoon to night, 'and it is certainly new. A stratus of tepid cloud a thousand miles long and a thousand miles deep, and a man in a dug-out paddling through! Sisyphus was nothing to this.' But he made himself comfortable in a philosophic way, and went to the only place left to him,—to sleep.
At dawn the sunshine colored the fog golden, but that was all; it was still fog, and lay upon the dark water thicker and softer than ever. Waring eat some dried meat, and considered the possibilities; he had reckoned without the fog, and now his lookout was uncomfortably misty. The provisions would not last more than a week; and though he might catch fish, how could he cook them? He had counted on a shore somewhere; any land, however desolate, would give him a fire; but this fog was muffling, and unless he stumbled ashore by chance he might go on paddling in a circle forever. 'Bien,' he said, summing up, 'my part at any rate is to go on; I, at least can do my duty.'
'Especially as there is nothing else to do,' observed the Spirit.
Having once decided, the man kept at his work with finical precision. At a given moment he eat a lunch, and very tasteless it was too, and then to work again; the little craft went steadily on before the stroke of the strong arms, its wake unseen, its course unguided. Suddenly at sunset the fog folded its gray draperies, spread its wings, and floated off to the southwest, where that night it rested at Death's Door and sent two schooners to the bottom; but it left behind it a released dug-out, floating before a log fortress which had appeared by magic, rising out of the water with not an inch of ground to spare, if indeed there was any ground; for might it not be a species of fresh-water boat, anchored there for clearer weather?
'Ten more strokes and I should have run into it,' thought Waring as he floated noiselessly up to this watery residence; holding on by a jutting beam, he reconnoitred the premises. The building was of logs, square, and standing on spiles, its north side, under which he lay, showed a row of little windows all curtained in white, and from one of them peeped the top of a rose-bush; there was but one storey, and the roof was flat. Nothing came to any of these windows, nothing stirred, and the man in the dug-out, being curious as well as hungry, decided to explore, and touching the wall at intervals pushed his craft noiselessly around the eastern corner; but here was a blank wall of logs and nothing more. The south side was the same, with the exception of two loopholes, and the dug-out glided its quietest past these. But the west shone out radiant, a rude little balcony overhanging the water, and in it a girl in a mahogany chair, nibbling something and reading.
'My sugar and my sonnets, as I am alive!' ejaculated Waring to himself.
The girl took a fresh bite with her little white teeth, and went on reading in the sunset light.
'Cool,' thought Waring.
And cool she looked truly to a man who had paddled two days in a hot sticky fog, as, clad in white, she sat still and placid on her airy perch. Her hair, of the very light fleecy gold seldom seen after babyhood, hung over her shoulders unconfined by comb or ribbon, felling around her like a veil and glittering in the horizontal sunbeams; her face, throat and hands were white as the petals of a white camellia, her features infantile, her cast-down eyes invisible under the full-orbed lids. Waring gazed at her cynically, his boat motionless; it accorded with his theories that the only woman he had seen for months should be calmly eating and reading stolen sweets. The girl turned a page, glanced up, saw him, and sprang forward smiling; as she stood at the balcony, her beautiful hair fell below her knees.
'Jacob,' she cried gladly, 'is that you at last?'
'No,' replied Waring, 'it is not Jacob; rather Esau. Jacob was too tricky for me. The damsel, Rachel, I presume!'
'My name is Silver,' said the girl, 'and I see you are not Jacob at all. Who are you, then?'
'A hungry, tired man who would like to come aboard and rest awhile.'
'Aboard? This is not a boat.'
'A castle,—Castle Nowhere.'
'You reside here?'
'Of course; where else should I reside? Is it not a beautiful place?' said the girl, looking around with a little air of pride.
'I could tell better if I was up there.'
'Do you not see the ladder?'
'Ah, yes,—Jacob had a ladder, I remember; he comes up this way, I suppose?'
'He does not; but I wish he would.'
'Undoubtedly. But you are not Leah all this time?'
'I am Silver, as I told you before; I know not—what you mean with your Leah.'
'But, mademoiselle, your Bible—'
'What is Bible?'
'You have never read the Bible?'
'It is a book, then. I like books,' replied Silver, waving her hand comprehensively; 'I have read five, and now I have a new one.'
'Do you like it, your new one?' asked Waring, glancing towards his property.
'I do not understand it all; perhaps you can explain to me?'
'I think I can,' answered the young man, smiling in spite of himself; 'that is, if you wish to learn.'
'Is it hard?'
'That depends upon the scholar; now, some minds—' Here a hideous face looked out through one of the little windows, and then vanished. 'Ah,' said Waring, pausing, 'one of the family?'
'That is Lorez, my dear old nurse.'
The face now came out on to the balcony and showed itself as part of an old negress, bent and wrinkled with age.
'He came in a boat, Lorez,' said Silver, 'and yet you see he is not Jacob. But he says he is tired and hungry, so we will have supper, now, without waiting for father.'
The old woman smiled and nodded, stroking the girl's glittering hair meanwhile with her black hand.
'As soon as the sun has gone it will be very damp,' said Silver, turning to her guest; 'you will come within. But you have not told me-your name.'
'Jarvis,' replied Waring promptly.
'Come, then, Jarvis.' And she led the way through a low door into a long narrow room with a row of little square windows on each side all covered with little square white curtains. The walls and ceiling were planked and the workmanship of the whole rude and clumsy; but a gay carpet covered the floor, a chandelier adorned with lustres, hung from a hook in the ceiling, large gilded vases and a mirror in a tarnished gilt frame adorned a shelf over the hearth, mahogany chairs stood in ranks against the wall under the little windows and a long narrow table ran down the centre of the apartment from end to end. It all seemed strangely familiar; of what did it remind him? His eyes fell upon the table-legs; they were riveted to the floor. Then it came to him at once,—the long narrow cabin of a lake steamer.
'I wonder if it is not anchored after all,' he thought.
'Just a few shavings and one little stick, Lorez,' said Silver; 'enough to give us light and drive away the damp.'
Up flared the blaze and spread abroad the dear home feeling. (O hearth-fire, good genius of home, with thee a log-cabin is cheery and bright, without thee the palace a dreary waste!)
'And now, while Lorez is preparing supper, you will come and see my pets,' said Silver, in her soft tone of unconscious command.
'By all means,' replied Waring. 'Anything in the way of mermaidens?'
'Mermaidens dwell in the water, they cannot live in houses as we can; did you not know that? I have seen them on moonlight nights, and so has Lorez; but Aunt Shadow never saw them.'
'Another member of the family,—Aunt Shadow?'
'Yes,' replied Silver; 'but she is not here now. She went away one night when I was asleep. I do not know why it is,' she added sadly, 'but if people go away from here in the night they never come back. Will it be so with you, Jarvis?'
'No; for I will take you with me,' replied the young man lightly.
'Very well; and father will go too, and Lorez,' said Silver.
To this addition, Waring, like many another man in similar circumstances, made no reply. But Silver did not notice the omission. She had opened a door, and behold, they stood together in a bower of greenery and blossom, flowers growing everywhere,—on the floor, up the walls, across the ceiling, in pots, in boxes, in baskets, on shelves, in cups, in shells, climbing, crowding each other, swinging, hanging, winding around everything,—a riot of beauty with perfumes for a language. Two white gulls stood in the open window and gravely surveyed the stranger.
'They stay with me almost all the time,' said the water-maiden; 'every morning they fly out to sea for a while, but they always come back.'
Then she flitted to and fro, kissed the opening blossoms and talked to them, tying back the more riotous vines and gravely admonishing them.
'They are so happy here,' she said; 'it was dull for them on shore. I would not live on the shore! Would you?'
'Certainly not,' replied Waring, with an air of having spent his entire life upon a raft. 'But you did not find all these blossoms on the shores about here, did you?'
'Father found them,—he finds everything; in his boat almost every night is something for me. I hope he will come soon; he will be so glad to see you.'
'Will he? I wish I was sure of that,' thought Waring. Then aloud, 'Has he any men with him?' he asked carelessly.
'O no; we live here all alone now,—father, Lorez, and I.'
'But you were expecting a Jacob?'
'I have been expecting Jacob for more than two years. Every night I watch for him, but he comes not. Perhaps he and Aunt Shadow will come together,—do you think they will?' said Silver, looking up into his eyes with a wistful expression.
'Certainly,' replied Waring.
'Now am I glad, so glad! For father and Lorez will never say so. I think I shall like you, Jarvis.' And, leaning on a box of mignonette, she considered him gravely with her little hands folded.
Waring, man of the world,—Waring, who had been, under fire,—Waring, the impassive,—Waring,—the unflinching,—turned from this scrutiny.
Supper was eaten at one end of the long table; the dishes, tablecloth, and napkins were marked with an anchor, the food simple but well cooked.
'Fish, of course, and some common supplies I can understand,' said the visitor; 'but how do you obtain flour like this, or sugar?'
'Father brings them,' said Silver, 'and keeps them locked in his storeroom. Brown sugar we have always, but white not always, and I like it so much! Don't you?'
'No; I care nothing for it,' said Waring, remembering the few lumps and the little white teeth.
The old negress waited, and peered at the visitor out of her small bright eyes; every time Silver spoke to her, she broke into a radiance of smiles and nods, but said nothing.
'She lost her voice some years ago,' explained the little mistress when the black had gone out for more coffee; 'and now she seems to have forgotten how to form words, although she understands us.'
Lorez returned, and, after refilling Waring's cup, placed something shyly beside his plate, and withdrew into the shadow. 'What is it?' said the young man, examining the carefully folded parcel.
'Why, Lorez, have you given him that!' exclaimed Silver as he drew out a scarlet ribbon, old and frayed, but brilliant still. 'We think it must have belonged to her young master,' she continued in a low tone. 'It is her most precious treasure, and long ago she used to talk about him, and about her old home in the South.'
The old woman came forward after a while, smiling and nodding like an animated mummy, and taking the red ribbon threw it around the young man's neck, knotting it under the chin. Then she nodded with treble radiance and made signs; of satisfaction.
'Yes, it is becoming,' said Silver, considering the effect thoughtfully, her small head with its veil of hair bent to one side, like a flower swayed by the wind.
The flesh-pots of Egypt returned to Jarvis Waring's mind: he remembered certain articles of apparel left behind in civilization, and murmured against the wilderness. Under the pretence of examining the vases, he took an early opportunity of, looking into the round mirror. 'I am hideous,' he said to himself, uneasily.
'Decidedly so,' echoed the Spirit in a cheerful voice. But he was not; only a strong dark young man of twenty-eight, browned by exposure, clad in a gray flannel shirt and the rough attire of a hunter.
The fire on the hearth sparkled gayly. Silver had brought one of her little white gowns, half finished, and sat sewing in its light, while the old negress came and went about her household tasks.
'So you can sew?' said the visitor.
'Of course I can. Aunt Shadow taught me,' answered the water-maiden, threading her needle deftly. 'There is no need to do it, for I have so many dresses; but I like to sew, don't you?'
'I cannot say that I do. Have you so many dresses then?'
'Yes; would you like to see them? Wait.'
Down went the little gown trailing along the floor, and away she flew, coming back with her arms full,—silks, muslins, laces, and even jewelry. 'Are they not beautiful?' she asked, ranging her splendor over the chairs.
'They are indeed,' said Waring, examining the garments with curious eyes. 'Where did you get them?'
'Father brought them. O, there he is now, there he is now! I hear the oars. Come, Lorez.'
She ran out; the old woman hastened, carrying a brand from the hearth; and after a moment Waring followed them. 'I may as well face the old rogue at once,' he thought.
The moon had not risen and the night was dark; under the balcony floated a black object, and Lorez, leaning over, held out her flaming torch. The face of the old rogue came out into the light under its yellow handkerchief, but so brightened and softened by loving gladness that the gazer above hardly knew it. 'Are you there, darling, safe and well?' said the old man, looking up fondly as he fastened his skiff.
'Yes, father; here I am and so glad to see you,' replied the water-maiden, waiting at the top of the ladder. 'We have a visitor, father dear; are you not glad, so glad to see him?'
The two men came face to face, and the elder started back. 'What are you doing here?' he said sternly.
'Looking for my property.'
'Take it, and begone!'
'I will, to-morrow.'
All this apart, and with the rapidity of lightning.
'His name is Jarvis, father, and we must keep him with us,' said Silver.
'Yes, dear, as long as he wishes to stay; but no doubt he has home and friends waiting for him.'
They went within, Silver leading the way. Old Fog's eyes gleamed and his hands were clinched. The younger man watched him warily.
'I have been showing Jarvis all my dresses, father, and he thinks them beautiful.'
'They certainly are remarkable,' observed Waring, coolly.
Old Fog's hands dropped, he glanced nervously towards the visitor.
'What have you brought for me to-night, father dear?'
'Nothing, child; that is, nothing of any consequence. But it is growing late; run off to your nest'
'O no, papa, you have had no supper, nor—'
'I am not hungry. Go, child, go; do not grieve me,' said the old man in a low tone.
'Grieve you? Dear papa, never!' said the girl, her voice softening to tenderness in a moment. 'I will run straight to my room.—Come, Lorez.'
The door closed. 'Now for us two,' thought Waring.
But the cloud had passed from old Fog's face, and he drew up his chair confidentially. 'You see how it is,' he began in an apologetic tone; 'that child is the darling of my life, and I could not resist taking those things for her; she has so few books, and she likes those little lumps of sugar.'
'And the Titian picture?' said Waring, watching him doubtfully.
'A father's foolish pride; I knew she was lovelier, but I wanted to see the two side by side. She is lovelier, isn't she?'
'I do not think so.'
'Don't you?' said old Fog in a disappointed tone. 'Well, I suppose I am foolish about her; we live here all alone, you see: my sister brought her up.'
'The Aunt Shadow who has gone away?'
'Yes; she was my sister, and—and she went away last year,' said the old man. 'Have a pipe?'
'I should think you would find it hard work to live here.'
'I do; but a poor man cannot choose. I hunt, fish, and get out a few furs sometimes; I traffic with the Beaver people now and then. I bought all this furniture in that way; you would not think it, but they have a great many nice things down at Beaver.'
'It looks like steamboat furniture.'
'That is it; it is. A steamer went to pieces down there, and they saved almost all her furniture and stores; they are very good sailors, the Beavers.'
'Well I would not like to say that; you know we do have terrible storms on these waters. And then there is the fog; this part of Lake Michigan is foggy half the time, why, I never could guess: but twelve hours out the twenty-four the gray mist lies on the water here and outside, shifting slowly backwards and forwards from Little Traverse to Death's Door, and up into this curve, like a waving curtain. Those silks, now, came from the steamer; trunks, you know. But I have never told Silver; she might ask where were the people to whom they belonged. You do not like the idea? Neither do I. But how could we help the drowning when we were not there, and these things were going for a song down at Beaver. The child loves pretty things; what could a poor man do? Have a glass of punch; I'll get it ready in no time.' He bustled about, and then came back with the full glasses. 'You won't tell her? I may have done wrong in the matter, but it would kill me to have the child lose faith in me,' he said, humbly.
'Are you going to keep the girl shut up here forever?' said Waring, half touched, half disgusted; the old fellow had looked abject as he pleaded.
'That is it; no,' said Fog, eagerly. 'She has been but a child all this time, you see, and my sister taught her well. We did the best we could. But as soon as I have a little more, just a little more, I intend to move to one of the towns down the lake, and have a small house and everything comfortable. I have planned it all out, I shall have—'
He rambled on, garrulously detailing all his fancies and projects while the younger man sipped his punch (which was very good), listened until he was tired, fell into a doze, woke and listened awhile longer, and then, wearied out, proposed bed.
'Certainly. But, as I was saying—'
'I can hear the rest to-morrow,' said Waring, rising with scant courtesy.
'I am sorry you go so soon; couldn't you stay a few days?' said the old man, lighting a brand. 'I am going over to-morrow to the shore where I met you. I have some traps there; you might enjoy a little hunting.'
'I have had too much of that already. I must get my dogs, and then I should like to hit a steamer or vessel going below.'
'Nothing easier; we'll go over after the dogs early in the morning, and then I'll take you right down to the islands if the wind is fair. Would you like to look around the castle,—I am going to draw up the ladders. No? This way, then; here is your room.'
It was a little side-chamber with one window high up over the water; there was an iron bolt on the door, and the walls of bare logs were solid. Waring stood his gun in one corner, and laid his pistols by the side of the bed,—for there was a bed, only a rude framework like a low-down shelf, but covered with mattress and sheets none the less,—and his weary body longed for those luxuries with a longing that only the wilderness can give,—the wilderness with its beds of boughs, and no undressing. The bolt and the logs shut him in safely; he was young and strong, and there were his pistols. 'Unless they burn down their old castle,' he said to himself, 'they cannot harm me.' And then he fell to thinking of the lovely childlike girl, and his heart grew soft. 'Poor old man,' he said, 'how he must have worked and stolen and starved to keep her safe and warm in this far-away nest of his hidden in the fogs! I won't betray the old fellow, and I'll go to-morrow. Do you hear that, Jarvis Waring? I'll go to-morrow!'
And then the Spirit, who had been listening as usual, folded himself up silently and flew away.
To go to sleep in a bed, and awake in an open boat drifting out to sea, is startling. Waring was not without experiences, startling and so forth, but this exceeded former sensations; when a bear had him, for instance, he at least understood it, but this was not a bear, but a boat. He examined the craft as well as he could in the darkness. 'Evidently boats in some shape or other are the genii of this region,' he said; 'they come shooting ashore from nowhere, they sail in at a signal without oars, canvas, or crew, and now they have taken to kidnapping. It is foggy too, I'll warrant; they are in league with the fogs.' He looked up, but could see nothing, not even a star.
'What does it all mean anyway? Where am I? Who am I? Am I anybody? Or has the body gone and left me only as an any?' But no one answered. Finding himself partly dressed, with the rest of his clothes at his feet, he concluded that he was not yet a spirit; in one of his pockets was a match, he struck it and came back to reality in a flash. The boat was his own dug-out, and he himself and no other was in it: so far, so good. Everything else, however, was fog and night. He found the paddle and began work. 'We shall see who will conquer,' he thought, doggedly, 'Fate or I!' So he paddled on an hour for more.
Then the wind arose and drove the fog helter-skelter across to Green Bay, where the gray ranks curled themselves down and lay hidden until morning. 'I'll go with the wind,' thought Waring, 'it must take me somewhere in time.' So he changed his course and paddled on. The wind grew strong, then stronger. He could see a few stars now as the ragged dark clouds scudded across the heavens, and he hoped for the late moon. The wind grew wild, then wilder. It took all his skill to manage his clumsy boat. He no longer asked himself where he was or who; he knew,—a man in the grasp of death. The wind was a gale now, and the waves were pressed down flat by its force as it flew along. Suddenly the man at the paddle, almost despairing, espied a light, high up, steady, strong. 'A lighthouse on one of the islands,' he said, and steered for it with all his might. Good luck was with him; in half an hour he felt the beach under him, and landed on the shore; but the light he saw no longer. 'I must be close in under it,' he thought. In the train of the gale came thunder and lightning. Waring sat under a bush watching the powers of the air in conflict, he saw the fury of their darts and heard the crash of their artillery, and mused upon the wonders of creation, and the riddle of man's existence. Then a flash came, different from the others in that it brought the human element upon the scene; in its light he saw a vessel driving helplessly before the gale. Down from his spirit-heights he came at once, and all the man within him was stirred for those on board, who, whether or not they had ever perplexed themselves over the riddle of their existence, no doubt now shrank from the violent solution offered to them. But what could he do? He knew nothing of the shore, and yet there must be a harbor somewhere, for was there not the light? Another flash showed the vessel still nearer, drifting broadside on; involuntarily he ran out on the long sandy point where it seemed that soon she must strike. But sooner came a crash, then a grinding sound; there was a reef outside then, and she was on it, the rocks cutting her, and the waves pounding her down on their merciless edges. 'Strange!' he thought. 'The harbor must be on the other side I suppose, and yet it seems as though I came this way.' Looking around, there was the light high up behind him, burning clearly and strongly, while the vessel was breaking to pieces below. 'It is a lure,' he said, indignantly, 'a false light.' In his wrath he spoke aloud; suddenly a shape came out of the darkness, cast him down, and tightened a grasp around his throat. 'I know you,' he muttered, strangling. One hand was free, he drew out his pistol, and fired; the shape fell back. It was old Fog. Wounded? Yes, badly.
Waring found his tinder-box, made a blaze of driftwood, and bound up the bleeding arm and leg roughly. 'Wretch,' he said, 'you set that light.'
Old Fog nodded.
'Can anything be done for the men on board? Answer or I'll end your miserable life at once; I don't know why, indeed, I have tried to save it.'
Old Fog shook his head. 'Nothing,' he murmured; 'I know every inch of the reef and shore.'
Another flash revealed for an instant the doomed vessel, and Waring raged at his own impotence as he strode to and fro, tears of anger and pity in his eyes. The old man watched him anxiously. 'There are not more than six of them,' he said; 'it was only a small schooner.'
'Silence!' shouted Waring; 'each man of the six now suffering and drowning is worth a hundred of such as you!'
'That may be,' said Fog.
Half an hour afterwards he spoke again. 'They're about gone now, the water is deadly cold up here. The wind will go down soon, and by daylight the things will be coming ashore; you'll see to them, won't you?'
'I'll see to nothing, murderer.'
'And if I die what are you?'
'Silver must die too then; there is but little in the house, she will soon starve. It was for her that I came out to-night.'
'I will take her away; not for your sake, but for hers.'
'How can you find her?'
'As soon as it is daylight I will sail over.'
'Over? Over where? That is it, you do not know,' said the old man, eagerly, raising himself on his unwounded arm. 'You might row and sail about here for days, and I'll warrant you'd never find the castle; it's hidden away more carefully than a nest in the reeds, trust me for that. The way lies through a perfect tangle of channels and islands and marshes, and the fog is sure for at least a good half of the time. The sides of the castle towards the channel show no light at all; and even when you're once through the outlying islets, the only approach is masked by a movable bed of sedge which I contrived, and which turns you skilfully back into the marsh by another way. No; you might float around there for days but you'd never find the castle.'
'I found it once.'
'That was because you came from the north shore. I did not guard that side, because no one has ever come that way; you remember how quickly I saw your light and rowed over to find out what it was. But you are miles away from there now.'
The moon could not pierce the heavy clouds, and the night continued dark. At last the dawn come slowly up the east and showed an angry sea, and an old man grayly pallid on the sands near the dying fire; of the vessel nothing was to be seen.
'The things will be coming ashore, the things will be coming. ashore,' muttered the old man, his anxious eyes turned towards the water that lay on a level with his face; he could not raise himself now.
'Do you see things coming ashore?'
Waring looked searchingly at him. 'Tell me the truth,' he said, 'has the girl no boat?'
'Will any one go to rescue her; does any one know of the castle?'
'Not a human being on this earth.'
'And that aunt,—that Jacob?'
'Didn't you guess it? They are both dead. I rowed them out by night and buried them,—my poor old sister and the boy who had been our serving-lad. The child knows nothing of death. I told her they had gone away.'
'Is there no way for her to cross, to the islands or mainland?'
'No; there is a circle of deep water all around the castle, outside.'
'I see nothing for it, then, but to try to save your justly forfeited life,' said Waring, kneeling down with an expression of repugnance. He was something of a surgeon, and knew what he, was about. His task over, he made up the fire, warmed some food, fed the old man, and helped his waning strength with the contents of his flask. 'At least you placed all my property in the dug-out before you set me adrift,' he said; 'may I ask your motive?'
'I did not wish to harm you; only to get rid of you. You had provisions, and your chances were as good as many you had had in the woods.'
'But I might have found my way back to your castle?'
'Once outside, you could never do that,' replied the old man, securely.
'I could go back along-shore.'
'There are miles of piny-wood swamps where the streams come down; no, you could not do it, unless you went away round to Lake Superior again, and struck across the country as you did before. That would take you a month or two, and the summer is almost over. You would not risk a Northern snowstorm, I reckon. But say, do you see things coming ashore?'
'The poor bodies will come, no doubt,' said Waring, sternly.
'Not yet; and they don't often come in here, anyway; they're more likely to drift out to sea.'
'Miserable creature, this is not the first time, then?'
'Only four times,—only four times in fifteen long years, and then only when she was close to starvation,' pleaded the old man. 'The steamer was honestly wrecked,—the Anchor, of the Buffalo line,—honestly, I do assure you; and what I gathered from her—she did not go to pieces for days—lasted me a long time, besides furnishing the castle. It was a godsend to me, that steamer. You must not judge me, boy; I work, I slave, I go hungry and cold, to keep her happy and warm. But times come when everything fails and starvation is at the door. She never knows it, none of them ever knew it, for I keep the keys and amuse them with little mysteries; but, as God is my judge, the wolf has been at the door, and is there this moment unless I have luck. Fish? There are none in shore where they can catch them. Why do I not fish for them? I do; but my darling is not accustomed to coarse fare, her delicate life must be delicately nourished. O, you do not know, you do not know! I am growing old, and my hands and eyes are not what they were. That very night when I came home and found you there, I had just lost overboard my last supplies, stored so long, husbanded so carefully! If I could walk, I would show you my cellar and storehouse back in the woods.
'Many things that they have held were honestly earned, by my fish and my game, and one thing and another. I get out timber and raft it down to the islands sometimes, although the work is too hard for an old man alone; and I trade my furs off regularly at the settlements on the islands and even along the mainland,—a month's work for a little flour or sugar. Ah, how I have labored! I have felt my muscles crack, I have dropped like a log from sheer weariness. Talk of tortures; which of them have I not felt, with the pains and faintness of exposure and hunger racking me from head to foot? Have I stopped for snow and ice? Have I stopped for anguish? Never; I have worked, worked, worked, with the tears of pain rolling down my cheeks, with my body gnawed by hunger. That night, in some way, the boxes slipped and fell overboard as I was shifting them; just slipped out of my grasp as if on purpose, they knowing all the time that they were my last. Home I came, empty-handed, and found you there! I would have taken your supplies, over on the north beach, that night, yes, without pity, had I not felt sure of those last boxes; but I never rob needlessly. You look at me with scorn? You are thinking of those dead men! But what are they to Silver,—the rough common fellows,—and the wolf standing at the castle door! Believe me, though, I try everything before I resort to this, and only twice out of the four times have I caught anything with my tree-hung light; once it was a vessel loaded with provisions, and once it was a schooner with grain from Chicago, which washed overboard and was worthless. O, the bitter day when I stood here in the biting wind and watched it float by out to sea! But say, has anything come ashore? She will be waking soon, and we have miles to go.'
But Waring did not answer; he turned away. The old man caught at his feet. 'You are not going,' he cried in a shrill voice, '—you are not going? Leave me to die,—that is well; the sun will come and burn me, thirst will come and madden me, these wounds will torture me, and all is no more than I deserve. But Silver? If I die, she dies. If you forsake me, you forsake her. Listen; do you believe in your Christ, the dear Christ? Then, in his name I swear to you that you cannot reach her alone, that only I can guide you to her. O save me, for her sake! Must she suffer and linger and die? O God, have pity and soften his heart!' The voice died away in sobs, the weak slow sobs of an old man.
But Waring, stern in avenging justice, drew himself from the feeble grasp, and walked down towards the boats. He did not intend fairly to desert the miserable old creature. He hardly knew what he intended, but his impulse was to put more space between them, between himself and this wretch who gathered his evil living from dead men's bones. So he stood gazing out to sea. A faint cry roused him, and, turning, he saw that the old man had dragged himself half across the distance between them, marking the way with his blood, for the bandages were loosened by his movements. As Waring turned, he held up his hands, cried aloud, and fell as if dead on the sands. 'I am a brute,' said Waring. Then he went to work and brought back consciousness, rebound the wounds, lifted the body in his strong arms and bore it down the beach. A sail-boat lay in a cove, with a little skiff in tow. Waring arranged a couch in the bottom, and placed the old man in an easy position on an impromptu pillow made of his coat. Fog opened his eyes. 'Anything come ashore?' he asked faintly, trying to turn his head towards the reef. Conquering his repugnance, the young man walked out on the long point. There was nothing there; but farther down the coast barrels were washing up and back in the surf, and one box had stranded in shallow water. 'Am I, too, a wrecker?' he asked himself, as with much toil and trouble he secured the booty and examined it. Yes, the barrels contained provisions.
Old Fog, revived by the sight, lay propped at the stern, giving directions. Waring found himself a child obeying the orders of a wiser head. The load on board, the little skiff carrying its share behind, the young man set sail and away they flew over the angry water; old Fog watching the sky, the sail, and the rudder, guiding their course with a word now and then, but silent otherwise.
'Shall we see the castle soon?' asked Waring, after several hours had passed.
'We may be there by night, if the wind doesn't shift.'
'Have we so far to go, then? Why, I came across in the half of a night.'
'Add a day to the half and you have it. I let you down at dawn and towed you out until noon; I then spied that sail beating up, and I knew there would be a storm by night, and—and things were desperate with me. So I cast you off and came over to set the light. It was a chance I did not count on, that your dug-out should float this way; I calculated that she would beach you safely on an island farther to the south.'
'And all this time, when you were letting me down—By the way, how did you do it?'
'Lifted a plank in the floor.'
'When you were letting me down, and towing me out, and calculating chances, what was I, may I ask?'
'O, just a body asleep, that was all; your punch was drugged, and well done too! Of course I could not have you at the castle; that was plain.'
They flew on a while longer, and then veered short to the left. 'This boat sails well,' said Waring, 'and that is your skiff behind I see. Did you whistle for it that night?'
'I let it out by a long cord while you went after the game bag, and the shore-end I fastened to a little stake just under the edge of the water on that long slope of beach. I snatched it up as I ran out, and kept hauling in until I met it. You fell off that ledge, didn't you? I calculated on that. You see I had found out all I wanted to know; the only thing I feared was some plan for settling along that shore, or exploring it for something. It is my weak side; if you had climbed up one of those tall trees you might have caught sight of the castle,—that is, if there was no fog.'
'Will the fog come up now?'
'Hardly; the storm has been too heavy. I suppose you know what day it is?' continued the old man, peering up at his companion from under his shaggy eyebrows.
'No; I have lost all reckonings of time and place.'
'You are worse than I am, then; I keep a reckoning, although I do not show it. To-day is Sunday, but Silver does not know it; all days are alike to her. Silver has never heard of the Bible,' he added, slowly.
'Yes, she has, for I told her.'
'You told her!' cried old Fog, wringing his hands.
'Be quiet, or you will disturb those bandages again. I only asked her if she had read the book, and she said no; that was all. But supposing it had not been all, what then? Would it harm her to know of the Bible?'
'It would harm her to lose faith in me.'
'Then why have you not told her yourself?'
'I left her to grow up as the flowers grow,' said old Fog, writhing on his couch. 'Is she not pure and good? Ah, a thousand times more than any church or school could make her!'
'And yet you have taught her to read?'
'I knew not what might happen. I could not expose her defenceless in a hard world. Religion is fancy, but education is like an armor. I cannot tell what may happen.'
'True. You may die, you know; you are an old man.'
The old man turned away his face.
They sailed on, eating once or twice; afternoon came, and then an archipelago closed in around them; the sail was down, and the oars out. Around and through, across and back, in and out they wound, now rowing, now poling, and now and then the sail hoisted to scud across a space of open water. Old Fog's face had grown gray again, and the lines had deepened across his haggard cheek and set mouth; his strength was failing. At last they came to a turn, broad and smooth like a canal. 'Now I will hoist the sail again,' said Waring.
But old Fog shook his head. 'That turn leads directly back into the marsh,' he said, 'Take your oar and push against the sedge in front.'
The young man obeyed, and lo! it moved slowly aside and disclosed a narrow passage westward; through this they poled their way along to open water, then set the sail, rounded a point, and came suddenly upon the castle. 'Well, I am glad we are here,' said Waring.
Fog had fallen back. 'Promise,' he whispered with gray lips,—'promise that you will not betray me to the child.' And his glazing eyes fixed themselves on Waring's face with the mute appeal of a dying animal in the hands of its captor.
'I promise,' said Waring.
But the old man did not die; he wavered, lingered, then slowly rallied,—very slowly. The weeks had grown into a month and two before he could manage his boat again. In the mean time Waring hunted and fished for the household, and even sailed over to the reef with Fog on a bed in the bottom of the boat, coming back loaded with the spoil; not once only, not twice did he go; and at last he knew the way, even through, the fog, and came and went alone, bringing home the very planks and beams of the ill-fated schooner. 'They will make a bright fire in the evenings,' he said. The dogs lived on the north shore, went hunting when their master came over and the rest of the time possessed their souls in patience. And what possessed Waring, do you ask? His name for it was 'necessity.' 'Of course I cannot leave them to starve,' he said to himself.
Silver came and went about the castle, at first wilfully, then submissively, then shyly. She had folded away all her finery in wondering silence, for Waring's face had shown disapproval, and now she wore always her simple white gown, 'Can you not put up your hair?' he had asked one day; and from that moment the little head appeared crowned with braids. She worked among her flowers and fed her gulls as usual, but she no longer talked to them or told them stories. In the evenings they all sat around the hearth, and sometimes the little maiden sang; Waring had taught her new songs. She knew the sonnets now, and chanted them around the castle to tunes of her own; Shakespeare would not have known his stately measures, dancing along to her rippling melodies.
The black face of Orange shone and simmered with glee; she nodded perpetually, and crooned and laughed to herself over her tasks by the hour together,—a low chuckling laugh of exceeding content.
And did Waring ever stop to think? I know not. If he did, he forgot the thoughts when Silver came and sat by him in the evening with the light of the hearth-fire shining over her. He scarcely saw her at other times, except on her balcony, or at her flower window as he came and went in his boat below; but in the evenings she sat beside him in her low chair, and laid sometimes her rose leaf palm in his rough brown hand, or her pretty head against his arm. Old Fog sat by always; but he said little, and his face was shaded by his hand.
The early autumn gales swept over the hikes, leaving wreck and disaster behind, but the crew of the castle stayed safely at home and listened to the tempest cosily, while the flowers bloomed on, and the gulls brought all their relations and colonized the balcony and window sills, fed daily by the fair hand of Silver. And Waring went not.
Then the frosts came, and turned the forests into splendor; they rowed over and brought out branches, and Silver decked the long room with scarlet and gold. And Waring went not.
The dreary November rains began, the leaves fell, and the dark water surged heavily; but a store of wood was piled on the flat roof, and the fire on the hearth blazed high. And still Waring went not.
At last the first ice appeared, thin flakes forming around the log foundations of the castle; then old Fog spoke. 'I am quite well now, quite strong again; you must go to-day, or you will find yourself frozen in here. As it is, you may hit a late vessel off the islands that will carry you below. I will sail over with you, and bring back the boat.'
'But you are not strong enough yet,' said Waring, bending over his work, a shelf he was carving for Silver; 'I cannot go and leave you here alone.'
'It is either go now, or stay all winter. You do not, I presume, intend to make Silver your wife,—Silver, the daughter of Fog the wrecker.'
Waring's hands stopped; never before had the old man's voice taken that tone, never before had he even alluded to the girl as anything more than a child. On the contrary, he had been silent, he had been humble, he had been openly grateful to the strong young man who had taken his place on sea and shore, and kept the castle full and warm. 'What new thing is this?' thought Waring, and asked the same.
'Is it new?' said Fog. 'I thought it old, very old, I mean no mystery, I speak plainly. You helped me in my great strait, and I thank you; perhaps it will be counted unto you for good in the reckoning up of your life. But I am strong again, and the ice is forming. You can have no intention of making Silver your wife?'
Waring looked up, their eyes met. 'No,' he replied slowly, as though the words were being dragged out of him by the magnetism of the old man's gaze, 'I certainly have no such intention.'
Nothing more was said; soon Waring rose and went out. But Silver spied him from her flower-room, and came down to the sail-boat where it lay at the foot of the ladder. 'You are not going out this cold day,' she said, standing by his side as he busied himself over the rigging. She was wrapped in a fur mantle, with a fur cap on her head, and her rough little shoes were fur-trimmed. Waring made no reply. 'But I shall not allow it,' continued the maiden, gayly. 'Am I not queen of this castle? You yourself have said it many a time. You cannot go, Jarvis; I want you here.' And with her soft hands she blinded him playfully.
'Silver, Silver,' called old Fog's voice above, 'come within; I want you.'
After that the two men were very crafty in their preparations.
The boat ready, Waring went the rounds for the last time. He brought down wood for several days and stacked it, he looked again at all the provisions and reckoned them over; then he rowed to the north shore, visited his traps, called out the dogs from the little house he had made for them, and bade them good by. 'I shall leave you for old Fog,' he said; 'be good dogs, and bring in all you can for the castle.'
The dogs wagged their tails, and waited politely on the beach until he was out of sight; but they did not seem to believe his story, and went back to their house tranquilly without a howl. The day passed as usual. Once the two men happened to meet in the passage-way. 'Silver seems restless, we must wait till darkness,' said Fog in a low tone.
'Very well,' replied Waring.
At midnight they were off, rowing over the black water in the sail-boat, hoping for a fair wind at dawn, as the boat was heavy. They journeyed but slowly through the winding channel, leaving the sedge-gate open; no danger now from intruders; the great giant, Winter, had swallowed all lesser foes. It was cold, very cold, and they stopped awhile at dawn on the edge of the marsh, the last shore, to make a fire and heat some food before setting sail for the islands.
'Good God!' cried Waring.
A boat was coming after them, a little skiff they both knew, and in it paddling, in her white dress, sat Silver, her fur mantle at her feet where it had fallen unnoticed. They sprang to meet her knee-deep in the icy water; but Waring was first, and lifted her slight form in his seems.
'I have found you, Jarvis,' she murmured, laying her head down upon his shoulder; then the eyes closed, and the hand she had tried to clasp around his neck fell lifeless. Close to the fire, wrapped in furs, Waring held her in his arms, while the old man bent over her, chafing her hands and little icy feet, and calling her name in an agony.
'Let her but come back to life, and I will say not one word, more,' he cried with tears. 'Who am I that I should torture her? You shall go back with us, and I will trust it all to God,—all to God.'
'But what if I will not go back, what if I will not accept your trust? said Waring, turning his head away from the face pillowed on his breast.
'I do not trust you, I trust God; he will guard her.'
'I believe he will,' said the young man, half to himself. And then they bore her home, not knowing whether her spirit was still with them, or already gone to that better home awaiting it in the next country.
That night the thick ice came, and the last vessels fled southward. But in the lonely little castle there was joy; for the girl was saved, barely, with fever, with delirium, with long prostration, but saved!
When weeks had passed, and she was in her low chair again, propped with cushions, pallid as a snow-drop, weak and languid, but still there, she told her story, simply and without comprehension of its meaning.
'I could not rest that night,' she said, 'I know not why; so I dressed softly and slipped past Orange asleep on her mattress by my door, and found you both gone,—your father, and you, Jarvis. You never go out at night, and it was very cold; and Jarvis had taken his bag and knapsack, and all the little things I know so well. His gun was gone from the wall, his clothes from his empty room, and that picture of the girl holding up the fruit was not on his table. From that I knew that something had happened; for it is dear to Jarvis, that picture of the girl,' said Silver with a little quiver in her voice. With a quick gesture Waring drew the picture from his pocket and threw it into the fire; it blazed, and was gone in a moment. 'Then I went after you,' said Silver with a little look of gratitude. 'I know the passage through the south channels, and something told me you had gone that way. It was very cold.'
That was all, no reasoning, no excuse, no embarrassment; the flight of the little sea-bird straight to its mate.
Life flowed on again in the old channel, Fog quiet, Silver happy, and Waring in a sort of dream. Winter was full upon them, and the castle beleaguered with his white armies both below and above, on the water and in the air. The two men went ashore on the ice now, and trapped and hunted daily, the dogs following. Fagots were cut and rough roads made through the forest. One would have supposed they were planning for a lifelong residence, the young man and the old, as they came and went together, now on the snow-crust, now plunging through breast-deep into the light dry mass. One day Waring said, 'Let me see your reckoning. Do you know that to-morrow will be Christmas?'
'Silver knows nothing of Christmas,' said Fog, roughly.
'Then she shall know,' replied Waring.
Away he went to the woods and brought back evergreen. In the night he checked the cabin-like room, and with infinite pains constructed a little Christmas-tree and hung it with everything he could collect or contrive.
'It is but a poor thing, after all,' he said, gloomily, as he stood alone surveying his work. It was indeed a shabby little tree, only redeemed from ugliness by a white cross poised on the green summit; this cross glittered and shone in the firelight,—it was cut from solid ice.
'Perhaps I can help, you,' said old Fog's voice behind. 'I did not show you this, for fear it would anger you, but—but there must have been a child on board after all.' He held a little box of toys, carefully packed as if by a mother's hand,—common toys, for she was only the captain's wife, and the schooner a small one; the little waif had floated ashore by itself, and Fog had seen and hidden it.
Waring said nothing, and the two men began to tie on the toys in silence. But after a while they warmed to their work and grew eager to make it beautiful; the old red ribbon that Orange had given was considered a precious treasure-trove, and, cut into fragments, it gayly held the little wooden toys in place on the green boughs.
Fog, grown emulous, rifled the cupboards and found small cakes baked by the practised hand of the old cook; these he hung exultingly on the higher boughs. And now the little tree was full, and stood bravely in its place at the far end of the long room, while the white cross looked down on the toys of the drowned child and the ribbon of the slave, and seemed to sanctify them for their new use.
Great was the surprise of Silver the next morning, and many the questions she asked. Out in the world, they told her, it was so; trees like that were decked for children.
'Am I a child?' said Silver, thoughtfully; 'what do you think, papa?'
'What do you think?' said Waring, turning the question.
'I hardly know; sometimes I think I am, and sometimes not; but it is of no consequence what I am as long as I have you,—you and papa. Tell me more about the little tree, Jarvis. What does it mean? What is that white shining toy on the top? Is there a story about it?'
'Yes, there is a story; but—but it is not I who should tell it to you,' replied the young man, after a moment's hesitation.
'Why not! Whom have I in all the world to tell me, save you?' said fondly the sweet child-voice.
They did not take away the little Christmas-tree, but left it on its pedestal at the far end of the long room through the winter; and as the cross melted slowly, a new one took its place, and shone aloft in the firelight. But its story was not told.
February came, and with it a February thaw; the ice stirred a little, and the breeze coming over the floes was singularly mild. The arctic winds and the airs from the Gulf Stream had met and mingled, and the gray fog appeared again, waving to and fro. 'Spring has come,' said Silver; 'there is the dear fog.' And she opened the window of the flower room, and let out a little bird.
'It will find no resting-place for the sole of its foot, for the snow is over the face of the whole earth,' said Waring. 'Our ark has kept us cosily through bitter weather, has it not, little one?' (He had adopted a way of calling her so.)
'Ark,' said Silver; 'what is that?'
'Well,' answered Waring, looking down into her blue eyes as they stood together at the little window, 'it was a watery residence like this, and if Japheth,—he was always my favorite of the three—had had you there, my opinion is that he would never have come down at all, but would have resided permanently on Ararat.'
Silver looked up into his face with a smile, not understanding what he said, nor asking to understand; it was enough for her that he was there. And as she gazed her violet eyes grew so deep, so soft, that the man for once (give him credit, it was the first time) took her into his arms. 'Silver,' he whispered, bending over her, 'do you love me?'
'Yes,' she answered in her simple, unconscious way, 'you know I do, Jarvis.'
No color deepened in her fair face under his ardent gaze; and, after a moment, he released her, almost roughly. The next day he told old Fog that he was going.
'Somewhere, this time. I've had enough of Nowhere.'
'Why do you go?'
'Do you want the plain truth, old man? Here it is, then; I am growing too fond of that girl,—a little more and I shall not be able to leave her.'
'Then stay; she loves you.'
'A child's love.'
'She will develop—'
'Not into my wife if I know myself,' said Waring, curtly.
Old Fog sat silent a moment. 'Is she not lovely and good?' he said in a low voice.
'She is; but she is your daughter as well.'
'She is not.'
'She is not! What then?'.
'I—I do not know; I found her, a baby, by the wayside.'
'A foundling! So much the better, that is even a step lower,' said the younger man, laughing roughly. And the other crept away as though he had been struck.
Waring set about his preparations. This time Silver did not suspect his purpose. She had passed out of the quick, intuitive watchfulness of childhood. During these days she had taken up the habit of sitting by herself in the flower-room, ostensibly with her book or sewing; but when they glanced in through the open door, her hands were lying idle on her lap and her eyes fixed dreamily on some opening blossom. Hours she sat thus, without stirring.
Waring's plan was a wild one; no boat could sail through the ice, no foot could cross the wide rifts made by the thaw, and weeks of the bitterest weather still lay between them and the spring. 'Along-shore,' he said.
'And die of cold and hunger,' answered Fog.
'Old man, why are you not afraid of me?' said Waring, pausing in his work with a lowering glance. 'Am I not stronger than you, and the master, if I so choose, of your castle of logs?'
'But you will not so choose.'
'Do not trust me too far.'
'Do not trust you,—but God.'
'For a wrecker and murderer, you have, I must say, a remarkably serene conscience,' sneered Waring.
Again the old man shrank, and crept silently away.
But when in the early dawn a dark figure stood on the ice adjusting its knapsack, a second figure stole down the ladder. 'Will you go, then,' it said, 'and leave the child?'
'She is no child,' answered the younger man, sternly; 'and you know it.'
'To me she is.'
'I care not what she is to you; but she shall not be more to me.'
'More to you?'
'No more than any other pretty piece of wax-work,' replied Waring, striding away into the gray mist.
Silver came to breakfast radiant, her small head covered from forehead to throat with the winding braids of gold, her eyes bright, her cheeks faintly tinged with the icy water of her bath. 'Where is Jarvis?' she asked.
'Gone hunting,' replied old Fog.
'For all day?'
'Yes; and perhaps for all night. The weather is quite mild, you know.'
'Yes, papa. But I hope it will soon be cold again; he cannot stay out long then,' said the girl, gazing out over the ice with wistful eyes.
The danger was over for that day; but the next morning there it was again, and with it the bitter cold.
'He must come home soon now,' said Silver, confidently, melting the frost on one of the little windows so that she could see out and watch for his coming. But be came not. As night fell the cold grew intense; deadly, clear, and still, with the stars shining brilliantly in the steel-blue of the sky. Silver wandered from window to window, wrapped in her fur mantle; a hundred times, a thousand times she had scanned the ice-fields and the snow, the lake and the shore. When the night closed down, she crept close to the old man who sat by the fire in silence, pretending to mend his nets, but furtively watching her every movement. 'Papa,' she whispered, 'where is he, where is he?' And her tears fell on his hands.
'Silver,' he said, bending over her tenderly, 'do I not love you? Am I not enough for you? Think, dear, how long we have lived here and how happy we have been. He was only a stranger. Come, let us forget him, and go back to the old days.'
'What! Has he gone, then? Has Jarvis gone?'
Springing to her feet she confronted him with clinched hands and dilated eyes. Of all the words she had heard but one; he had gone! The poor old man tried to draw her down again into the shelter of his arms, but she seemed turned to stone, her slender form was rigid. 'Where is he? Where is Jarvis? What have you done with him,—you, you!'
The quick unconscious accusation struck to his heart. 'Child,' he said in a broken voice, 'I tried to keep him. I would have given him my place in your love, in your life, but he would not. He has gone, he cares not for you; he is a hard, evil man.'
'He is not! But even if he were, I love him,' said the girl, defiantly.
Then she threw up her arms towards heaven (alas! it was no heaven to her, poor child) as if in appeal. 'Is there no one to help me?' she cried aloud.
'What can we do, dear?' said the old man, standing beside her and smoothing her hair gently. 'He would not stay,—I could not keep him!'
'I could have kept him.'
'You would not ask him to stay, if he wished to go?'
'Yes, I would; he must stay, for my sake.'
'But if he had loved you, dear, he would not have gone.'
'Did he say he did not love me?' demanded Silver, with gleaming eyes.
Old Fog hesitated.
'Did he say he did not love me? Did Jarvis say that?' she repeated, seizing his arm with grasp of fire.
'Yes; he said that.'
But the lie meant to rouse her pride, killed it; as if struck by a visible hand, she swayed and fell to the floor.
The miserable old man watched her all the night. She was delirious, and raved of Waring through the long hours. At daylight he left her with Orange, who, not understanding these white men's riddles, and sorely perplexed by Waring's desertion, yet cherished her darling with dumb untiring devotion, and watched her every breath.
Following the solitary trail over the snow-covered ice and thence along-shore towards the east journeyed old Fog all day in the teeth of the wind, dragging a sledge loaded with furs, provisions, and dry wood; the sharp blast cut him like a knife, and the dry snow-pellets stung as they touched his face, and clung to his thin beard coated with ice. It was the worst day of the winter, an evil, desolate, piercing day; no human creature should dare such weather. Yet the old man journeyed patiently on until nightfall, and would have gone farther had not darkness concealed the track; his fear was that new snow might fall deeply enough to hide it, and then there was no more hope of following. But nothing could be done at night, so he made his camp, a lodge under a drift with the snow for walls and roof, and a hot fire that barely melted the edges of its icy hearth. As the blaze flared out into the darkness, he heard a cry, and followed; it was faint, but apparently not distant, and after some search he found the spot; there lay Jarvis Waring, helpless and nearly frozen. 'I thought you farther on,' he said, as he lifted the heavy, inert body.
'I fell and injured my knee yesterday; since then I have been freezing slowly,' replied Waring in a muffled voice. 'I have been crawling backwards and forwards all day to keep myself alive, but had just given it up when I saw your light.'
All night the old hands worked over him, and they hated the body they touched; almost fiercely they fed and nourished it, warmed its blood, and brought back life. In the dawning Waring was himself again; weak, helpless, but in his right mind. He said as much, and added, with a touch of his old humor, 'There is a wrong mind you know, old gentleman.'
The other made no reply; his task done; he sat by the fire waiting. He had gone after this fellow, driven by fate; he had saved him, driven by fate. Now what had fate next in store? He warmed his wrinkled hands mechanically and waited, while the thought came to him with bitterness that his darling's life lay at the mercy of this man who had nothing better to do, on coming back from the very jaws of death, than make jests. But old Fog was mistaken; the man had something better to do, and did it. Perhaps he noted the expression of the face before him; perhaps he did not, but was thinking, young man fashion, only of himself; at any rate this is what he said: 'I was a fool to go. Help me back, old man; it is too strong for me,—I give it up.'
'Back,—back where?' said the other, apathetically.
Waring raised his head from his pillow of furs. 'Why do you ask when you know already! Back to Silver, of course; have you lost your mind?'
His harshness came from within; in reality it was meant for himself; the avowal had cost him something as it passed his lips in the form of words; it had not seemed so when in the suffering, and the cold, and the approach of death, he had seen his own soul face to face and realized the truth.
So the two went back to the castle, the saved lying on the sledge, the savior drawing it; the wind was behind them now, and blew them along. And when the old man, weary and numb with cold, reached the ladder at last, helped Waring, lame and irritable, up to the little snow-covered balcony, and led the way to Silver's room,—when Silver, hearing the step, raised herself in the arms of the old slave and looked eagerly, not at him, no, but at the man behind,—did he shrink? He did not; but led the reluctant, vanquished, defiant, half-angry, half-shamed lover forward, and gave his darling into the arms that seemed again almost unwilling, so strong was the old opposing determination that lay bound by love's bonds.
Silver regained her life as if by magic; not so Waring, who lay suffering and irritable on the lounge in the long room, while the girl tended him with a joy that shone out in every word, every tone, every motion. She saw not his little tyrannies, his exacting demands, his surly tempers; or rather she saw and loved them as women do when men lie ill and helpless in their hands. And old Fog sat apart, or came and went unnoticed; hours of the cold days he wandered through the forests, visiting the traps mechanically, and making tasks for himself to fill up the time; hours of the cold evenings, he paced the snow-covered roof alone. He could not bear to see them, but left the post to Orange, whose black face shone with joy and satisfaction over Waring's return.
But after a time fate swung around (as she generally does if impatient humanity would but give her a chance). Waring's health grew, and so did his love. He had been like a strong man armed, keeping his palace; but a stronger than he was come, and, the combat over, he went as far the other way and adored the very sandals of the conqueror. The gates were open, and all the floods were out.
And Silver? As he advanced, she withdrew. (It is always so in love, up to a certain point; and beyond that point lies, alas! the broad monotonous country of commonplace.)
This impetuous, ardent lover was not the Jarvis she had known, the Jarvis who had been her master, and a despotic one at that. Frightened, shy, bewildered, she fled away from all her dearest joys, and stayed by herself in the flower-room with the bar across the door, only emerging timidly at mealtimes and stealing into the long room like a little wraith; a rosy wraith now, for at last she had learned to blush. Waring was angry at this desertion, but only the more in love; for the violet eyes veiled themselves under his gaze, and the unconscious child-mouth began to try to control and conceal its changing expressions, and only succeeded in betraying them more helplessly than ever. Poor little solitary maiden-heart!
Spring was near now; soft airs came over the ice daily, and stirred the water beneath; then the old man spoke. He knew what was coming, he saw it all, and a sword was piercing his heart; but bravely he played his part. 'The ice will move out soon, in a month or less you can sail safely,' he said, breaking the silence one night when they two sat by the fire, Waring moody and restless, for Silver had openly repulsed him, and fled away early in the evening. 'She is trifling with me,' he thought, 'or else she does not know what love is. By heavens, I will teach her though—' As far as this his mind had journeyed when Fog spoke. 'In a month you can sail safely, and I suppose you will go for good this time?'
Fog waited. Waring kicked a fallen log into place, lit his pipe then let it go out, moved his chair forward, then pushed it back impatiently, and finally spoke. 'Of course I shall take Silver; I intend to make Silver.'
'At last. No wonder you are glad—'
'Glad,' said Fog,—'glad!' But the words were whispered, and the young man went on unheeding.
'Of course it is a great thing for you to have the child off your hands and placed in a home so high above your expectations. Love is a strange power. I do not deny that I have fought against it, but—but why should I conceal? I love Silver with all my soul, she seems to have grown into my very being.'
It was frankly and strongly uttered; the good side of Jarvis Waring came uppermost for the moment.
Old Fog leaned forward and grasped his hand. 'I know you do,' he said. 'I know something of men, and I have watched you closely, Waring. It is for this love that I forgive—I mean that I am glad and thankful for it, very thankful.'
'And you have reason to be,' said the younger man, withdrawing into his pride again. 'As my wife, Silver will have a home, a circle of friends, which—But you could not understand; let it pass. And now, tell me all you know of her.'
The tone was a command, and the speaker leaned back in his chair with the air of an owner as he relighted his pipe.
But Fog did not shrink. 'Will you have the whole story?' he asked humbly.
'As well now as ever, I suppose, but be as brief as possible,' said the young man in a lordly manner. Had he not just conferred an enormous favor, an alliance which might be called the gift of a prince, on this dull old backwoodsman?
'Forty years ago or thereabouts,' began Fog in a low voice, 'a crime was committed in New York City. I shall not tell you what it was, there is no need; enough that the whole East was stirred, and a heavy reward was offered for the man who did the deed. I am that man.'
Waring pushed back his chair, a horror came over him, his hand sought for his pistol; but the voice went on unmoved. 'Shall I excuse the deed to you, boy? No, I will not. It was done and I did it, that is enough, the damning fact that confronts and silences all talk of motive or cause. This much only will I say; to the passion of the act deliberate intention was not added, and there was no gain for the doer; only loss, the black eternal loss of everything in heaven above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters that are under the earth, for hell itself seemed to spew me out. At least so I thought as I fled away, the mark of Cain upon my brow; the horror was so strong upon me that I could not kill myself, I feared to join the dead. I went to and fro on the earth, and walked up and down in it; I fled to the uttermost parts of the sea, and yet came back again, moved by a strange impulse to be near the scene of my crime. After years had passed, and with them the memory of the deed from the minds of others, though not from mine, I crept to the old house where my one sister was living alone, and made myself known to her. She left her home, a forlorn place, but still a home, and followed me with a sort of dumb affection,—poor old woman. She was my senior by fifteen years, and I had been her pride; and so she went with me from the old instinct, which still remained, although the pride was dead, crushed by slow horror. We kept together after that, two poor hunted creatures instead of one; we were always fleeing, always imagining that eyes knew us, that fingers pointed us out. I called her Shadow, and together we took the name of Fog, a common enough name, but to us meaning that we were nothing, creatures of the mist, wandering to and fro by night, but in the morning gone. At last one day the cloud over my mind seemed to lighten a little, and the thought came to me that no punishment can endure forever, without impugning the justice of our great Creator. A crime is committed, perhaps in a moment; the ensuing suffering, the results, linger on earth, it may be for some years; but the end of it surely comes sooner or later, and it is as though it had never been. Then, for that crime, shall a soul suffer forever,—not a thousand years, a thousand ages if you like, but forever? Out upon the monstrous idea! Let a man do evil every moment of his life, and let his life be the full threescore years and ten; shall there not come a period in the endless cycles of eternity when even his punishment shall end? What kind of a God is he whom your theologians have held up to us,—a God who creates us at his pleasure, without asking whether or not we wish to be created, who endows us with certain wild passions and capacities for evil, turns us loose into a world of suffering, and then, for our misdeeds there, our whole lives being less than one instant's time in his sight, punishes us forever! Never-ending tortures throughout the countless ages of eternity for the little crimes of threescore years and ten! Heathendom shows no god so monstrous as this. O great Creator, O Father of our souls, of all the ills done on the face of thy earth, this lie against thy justice and thy goodness, is it not the greatest? The thought came to me, as I said, that no punishment could endure forever, that somewhere is the future I, even I, should meet pardon and rest. That day I found by the wayside a little child, scarcely more than a baby; it had wandered out of the poorhouse, where its mother had died the week before, a stranger passing through the village. No one knew anything about her nor cared to know, for she was almost in rags, fair and delicate once they told me, but wasted with illness and too far gone to talk. Then a second thought came to me,—expiation. I would take this forlorn little creature and bring her up as my own child, tenderly, carefully,—a life for a life. My poor old sister took to it wonderfully, it seemed to brighten her desolation into something that was almost happiness; we wandered awhile longer, and then came westward through the lakes, but it was several years before we were fairly settled here. Shadow took care of the baby and made her little dresses; then, when the time came to teach her to sew and read, she said more help was needed, and went alone to the towns below to find a fit servant, coming back in her silent way with old Orange; another stray lost out of its place in the world, and suffering from want in the cold Northern city. You must not think that Silver is totally ignorant; Shadow had the education of her day, poor thing, for ours was a good old family as old families go in this new country of ours, where three generations of well-to-do people constitute aristocracy. But religion, so called, I have not taught her. Is she any the worse for its want?
'I will teach her,' said Waring, passing over the question (which was a puzzling one), for the new idea, the strange interest he felt in the task before him, the fair pure mind where his hand, and his alone, would be the first to write the story of good and evil.
'That I should become attached to the child was natural,' continued old Fog; 'but God gave it to me to love her with so great a love that my days have flown; for her to sail out over the stormy water, for her to hunt through the icy woods, for her to dare a thousand deaths, to labor, to save, to suffer,—these have been my pleasures through all the years. When I came home, there she was to meet me, her sweet voice calling me father, the only father she could ever know. When my poor old sister died, I took her away in my boat by night and buried her in deep water; and so I did with the boy we had here for a year or two, saved from a wreck. My darling knows nothing of death; I could not tell her.'
'And those wrecks,' said Waring; 'how do you make them balance with your scheme of expiation?'
The old man sat silent a moment; then he brought his hand down violently on the table by his side. 'I will not have them brought up in that way, I tell you I will not! Have I not explained that I was desperate?' he said in an excited voice. 'What are one or two miserable crews to the delicate life of my beautiful child? And the men had their chances, too, in spite of my lure. Does not every storm threaten them with deathly force? Wait until you are tempted, before you judge me, boy. But shall I tell you the whole? Listen, then. Those wrecks were the greatest sacrifices, the most bitter tasks of my hard life, the nearest approach I have yet made to the expiation. Do you suppose I wished to drown the men? Do you suppose I did not know the greatness of the crime? Ah, I knew it only too well, and yet I sailed out and did the deed! It was for her,—to keep her from suffering; so I sacrificed myself unflinchingly. I would murder a thousand men in cold blood, and bear the thousand additional punishments without a murmur throughout a thousand ages of eternity, to keep my darling safe and warm. Do you not see that the whole was a self-immolation, the greatest, the most complete I could make? I vowed to keep my darling tenderly. I have kept my vow; see that you keep yours.'
The voice ceased, the story was told, and the teller gone. The curtain over the past was never lifted again; but often, in after years, Waring thought of this strange life and its stranger philosophy. He could never judge them. Can we?
The next day the talk turned upon Silver. 'I know you love her,' said the old man, 'but how much?'
'Does it need the asking?' answered Waring with a short laugh; 'am I not giving up my name, my life, into her hands?'
'You could not give them into hands more pure.'
'I know it; I am content. And yet, I sacrifice something,' replied the young man, thinking of his home, his family, his friends.
Old Fog looked at him. 'Do you hesitate?' he said, breaking the pause.
'Of course I do not; why do you ask?' replied Waring, irritably. 'But some things may be pardoned, I think, in a case like mine.'
'I pardon them.'
'I can teach her, of course, and a year or so among cultivated people will work wonders; I think I shall take her abroad, first. How soon did you say we could go?'
'The ice is moving. There will be vessels through the straits in two or three weeks,' replied Fog. His voice shook. Waring looked up; the old man was weeping. 'Forgive me,' he said brokenly, 'but the little girl is very dear to me.'
The younger man was touched. 'She shall be as dear to me as she has been to you,' he said; 'do not fear. My love is proved by the very struggle I have made against it. I venture to say no man ever fought harder against himself than I have in this old castle of yours. I kept that Titian picture as a countercharm. It resembles a woman who, at a word, will give me herself and her fortune,—a woman high in the cultivated circles of cities both here and abroad, beautiful, accomplished, a queen in her little sphere. But all was useless. That long night in the snow, when I crawled backwards and forwards to keep myself from freezing, it came to me with power that the whole of earth and all its gifts compared not with this love. Old man, she will be happy with me.'
'I know it.'
'Did you foresee this end?' asked Waring after a while, watching, as he spoke, the expression of the face before him. He could not rid himself of the belief that the old man had laid his plans deftly.
'I could only hope for it: I saw that she loved you.'
'Well, well,' said the younger man magnanimously, 'it was natural, after all. Your expiation has ended better than you hoped; for the little orphan child you have reared has found a home and friends, and you yourself need work no more. Choose your abode here or anywhere else in the West, and I will see that you are comfortable.'
'I will stay on here.'
'As you please. Silver will not forget you; she will write often. I think I will go first up the Rhine and then into Switzerland,' continued Waring, going back to himself and his plans with the matter-of-course egotism of youth and love. And old Fog listened.
What need to picture the love-scene that followed? The next morning a strong hand knocked at the door of the flower-room, and the shy little maiden within had her first lesson in love, or rather in its expression, while all the blossoms listened and the birds looked on approvingly. To do him justice, Waring was an humble suitor when alone with her; she was so fair, so pure, so utterly ignorant of the world and of life, that he felt himself unworthy, and bowed his head. But the mood passed, and Silver liked him better when the old self-assertion and quick tone of command came uppermost again. She knew not good from evil, she could not analyze the feeling in her heart; but she loved this stranger, this master, with the whole of her being. Jarvis Waring knew good from evil (more of the latter knew he than of the former), he comprehended and analyzed fully the feeling that possessed him; but, man of the world as he was, he loved this little water-maiden, this fair pagan, this strange isolated girl, with the whole force of his nature. 'Silver,' he said to her, seriously enough, 'do you know how much I love you? I am afraid to think what life would seem without you.'