"I have looked at your books already," said the woman, answering his glance.
This was where she had found his name he realized.
"You will have this room for your own use and I will take the other for mine," he continued.
"I am loath to dispossess you."
"I shall be quite comfortable there, and this shall be your room exclusively except when you bid me enter, as when I bring you your meals; otherwise I shall hold it inviolate."
"But," said the woman, "there must be an equal division of labor, I must do my share."
"There isn't much to do in the winter, except to take care of the burros, keep up the fire and prepare what we have to eat."
"I am afraid I should be unequal to outdoor work, but in the rest I must do my part."
He recognized at once that idleness would be irksome.
"So you shall," he assented heartily, "when your foot is well enough to make you an efficient member of our little society."
"Thank you, and now – "
"Is there anything else before I get supper?"
"You think there is no hope of their searching for me here?"
The man shook his head.
"If James Armstrong had been in the party," she said reflectively, "I am sure he would never have given up."
"And who is James Armstrong, may I ask?" burst forth the other bluntly.
"Why he – I – he is a friend of my uncle's and an – acquaintance of my own."
"Oh," said the man shortly and gloomily, as he turned away.
Enid Maitland had been very brave in his presence, but when he went out she put her head down on her arms on the table and cried softly to herself. Was ever a woman in such a predicament, thrown into the arms of a man who had established every conceivable claim upon her gratitude, forced to live with him shut up in a two-room log cabin upon a lonely mountain range, surrounded by lofty and inaccessible peaks, pierced by terrific gorges soon to be impassable from the snows? She had read many stories of castaways from Charles Reade's famous "Foul Play" down to more modern instances, but in those cases there had always been an island comparatively large over which to range, with privacy, seclusion, opportunity for withdrawal; bright heavens, balmy breezes, idyllic conditions. Here were two uplifted from the earth upon a sky-piercing mountain; they would have had more range of action and more liberty of motion if they had been upon a derelict in the ocean.
And she realized at the same time that in all those stories the two castaways always loved each other. Would it be so with them? Was it so! And again the hot flame within outvied the fire on the hearth as the blood rushed to the smooth surface of her cheek again.
What would her father say if he could know her position, what would the world say, and above all what would Armstrong say? It cannot be denied that her thoughts were terribly and overwhelmingly dismayed, and yet that despair was not without a certain relief. No man had ever so interested her as this one. What was the mystery of his life, why was he there, what had he meant when he had blessed the idle impulse that had sent her into his arms?
Her heart throbbed again. She lifted her face from her hands and dried her tears, a warm glow stole over her and once again not altogether from the fire. Who and what was this man? Who was that woman whose picture he had taken from her? Well, she would have time to find out. And meantime the world outside could think and do what it pleased. She sat staring into the firelight, seeing pictures there, dreaming dreams. She was as lovely as an angel to the man when he came back into the room.
That upper earth on which they lived was covered with a thick blanket of snow. The lakes and pools were frozen from shore to shore. The mountain brooks, if they flowed at all, ran under thick arches of ice. The deepest cañons were well nigh impassable from huge drifts that sometimes almost rose level with the tops of the walls. In every sheltered spot great banks of white were massed. The spreading branches of the tall pine trees in the valleys drooped under heavy burdens of snow. Only here and there sharp gaunt peaks were swept clean by the fierce winter winds and thrust themselves upward in the icy air, naked and bare. The cold was polar in its bitter intensity.
The little shelf, or plateau, jutting out from the mountain side upon which the lonely cabin stood was sheltered from the prevailing winds, but the house itself was almost covered with the drifts. The constant fire roaring up the huge stone chimney had melted some of the snow at the top and it had run down the slanting roof and formed huge icicles on what had been the eaves of the house. The man had cut away the drifts from doors and windows for light and liberty. At first every stormy night would fill his laborious clearings with drifting snow, but as it became packed down and frozen solid he was able to keep his various ways open without a great deal of difficulty. A little work every morning and evening sufficed.
Every day he had to go down the mountain stairway to the bottom of the pocket to feed and water the burros. What was a quick and simple task in milder, warmer seasons, sometimes took him half a day under the present rigorous conditions. And the woman never saw him start out in the storm without a sinking heart and grave apprehension. On his return to the cabin half frozen, almost spent and exhausted, she ever welcomed him with eager gratitude and satisfaction which would shine in her eyes, throb in her heart and tremble upon her lips, control it as she might. And he thought it was well worth all the trouble and hardships of his task to be so greeted when he came back to her.
Winter had set in unusually early and with unprecedented severity. Any kind of winter in the mountains would have amazed the girl, but even the man with his larger experiences declared he had never before known such sharp and sudden cold, or such deep and lasting snow. His daily records had never shown such low temperatures, nor had his observation ever noted such wild and furious storms as raged then and there. It seemed as if Nature were in a conspiracy to seal up the mountains and all they contained, to make ingress and egress alike impossible.
A month had elapsed and Enid's foot was now quite well. The man had managed to sew up her boot where his knife had cut it, and although the job was a clumsy one the result was a usable shoe. It is astonishing the comfort she took when she first put it on and discarded for good the shapeless woolen stocking which had covered the clumsy bandage, happily no longer necessary. Although the torn and bruised member had healed and she could use it with care, her foot was still very tender and capable of sustaining no violent or long continued strain. Of necessity she had been largely confined to the house, but whenever it had been possible he had wrapped her in his great bear skin coat and had helped her out to the edge of the cliff for a breath of fresh air.
Sometimes he would leave her there alone, would perhaps have left her alone there always had she not imperiously required his company.
Insensibly she had acquired the habit – not a difficult one for a woman to fall into – of taking the lead in the small affairs of their circumscribed existence, and he had acquiesced in her dominance without hesitation or remonstrance. It was she who ordered their daily walk and conversation. Her wishes were consulted about everything; to be sure no great range of choice was allowed them, or liberty of action, or freedom, in the constraints with which nature bound them, but whenever there was any selection she made it.
The man yielded everything to her and yet he did it without in any way derogating from his self respect or without surrendering his natural independence. The woman instinctively realized that in any great crisis, in any large matter, the determination of which would naturally affect their present or their future, their happiness, welfare, life, he would assert himself, and his assertion would be unquestioned and unquestionable by her.
There was a delightful satisfaction to the woman in the whole situation. She had a woman's desire to lead in the smaller things of life and yet craved the woman's consciousness that in the great emergencies she would be led, in the great battles she would be fought for, in the great dangers she would be protected, in the great perils she would be saved. There was rest, comfort, joy and satisfaction in these thoughts.
The strength of the man she mastered was evidence of her own power and charm. There was a sweet, voiceless, unconscious flattery in his deference of which she could not be unaware.
Having little else to do, she studied the man and she studied him with a warm desire and an enthusiastic predisposition to find the best in him. She would not have been a human girl if she had not been thrilled to the very heart of her by what the man had done for her. She recognized that whether he asserted it or not, he had established an everlasting and indisputable claim upon her.
The circumstances of their first meeting, which as the days passed did not seem quite so horrible to her, and yet a thought of which would bring the blood to her cheek still on the instant, had in some way turned her over to him. His consideration of her, his gracious tenderness toward her, his absolute abnegation, his evident overwhelming desire to please her, to make the anomalous situation in which they stood to each other bearable in spite of their lonely and unobserved intimacy, by an absolute lack of presumption on his part – all those things touched her profoundly.
Although she did not recognize the fact then, perhaps, she loved him from the moment her eyes had opened in the mist and rain after that awful battle in the torrent to see him bending over her.
No sight that had ever met Enid Maitland's eyes was so glorious, so awe inspiring, so uplifting and magnificent as the view from the verge of the cliff in the sunlight of some bright winter morning. Few women had ever enjoyed such privileges as hers. She did not know whether she liked the winter crowned range best that way, or whether she preferred the snowy world, glittering cold in the moonlight; or even whether it was more attractive when it was dark and the peaks and drifts were only lighted by the stars which shone never so brightly as just above her head.
When he allowed her she loved to stand sometimes in the full fury of the gale with the wind shrieking and sobbing, like lost souls in some icy inferno, through the hills and over the pines, the snow beating upon her, the sleet cutting her face if she dared to turn toward the storm. Generally he left her alone in the quieter moments, but in the tempest he stood watchful, on guard by her side, buttressing her, protecting her, sheltering her. Indeed, his presence then was necessary; without him she could scarce have maintained a footing. The force of the wind might have hurled her down the mountain but for his strong arm. When the cold grew too great he led her back carefully to the hut and the warm fire.
Ah, yes, life and the world were both beautiful to her then, in night, in day, by sunlight, by moonlight, in calm and storm. Yet it made no difference what was spread before the woman's eyes, what glorious picture was exhibited to her gaze, she could not look at it more than a moment without thinking of the man. With the most fascinating panorama that the earth's surface could spread before human vision to engage her attention she looked into her own heart and saw there this man!
Oh, she had fought against it at first, but lately she had luxuriated in it. She loved him, she loved him! And why not? What is it that women love in men? Strength of body? She could remember yet how he had carried her over the mountains in the midst of the storm, how she had been so bravely upborne by his arms to his heart. She realized later what a task that had been, what a feat of strength. The uprooting of that sapling, and the overturning of that huge grizzly were child's play to the long portage up the almost impassable cañon and mountain side which had brought her to this dear haven.
Was it strength of character she sought, resolution, determination? This man had deliberately withdrawn from the world, buried himself in this mountain; and had stayed there deaf to the alluring call of man or woman; he had had the courage to do that.
Was it strength of mind she admired? Enid Maitland was no mean judge of the mental powers of her acquaintance. She was just as full of life and spirit and the joy of them as any young woman should be, but she had not been trained by and thrown with the best for nothing. Noblesse oblige! That his was a mind well stored with knowledge of the most varied sort she easily and at once perceived. Of course the popular books of the last five years had passed him by, and of such he knew nothing, but he could talk intelligently, interestingly, entertainingly upon the great classics. Keats and Shakespeare were his most thumbed volumes. He had graduated from Harvard as a Civil Engineer with the highest honors of his class and school and the youngest man to get his sheepskin! Enid Maitland herself was a woman of broad culture and wide reading and she deliberately set herself to fathom this man's capabilities. Not infrequently, much to her surprise, sometimes to her dismay, but generally to her satisfaction, she found that she had no plummet with which to sound his greater depths.
Did she seek in him that fine flower of good breeding, gentleness and consideration? Where could she find these qualities better displayed? She was absolutely alone with this man, entirely in his power, shut off from the world and its interference as effectually as if they had both been abandoned on an ice floe at the North Pole or cast away on some lonely island in the South Seas, yet she felt as safe as if she had been in her own house, or her uncle's, with every protection that human power could give. He had never presumed upon the situation in the least degree, he never once referred to the circumstances of their meeting in the remotest way, he never even discussed her rescue from the flood, he never told her how he had borne her through the rain to the lonely shelter of the hills, and in no way did he say anything that the most keenly scrutinizing mind would torture into an allusion to the pool and the bear and the woman. The fineness of his breeding was never so well exhibited as in this reticence. More often than not it is what he does not rather than what he does that indicates the man.
It would be folly to deny that he never thought of these things. Had he forgotten them there would be no merit in his silence; but to remember them and to keep still – aye, that showed the man! He would close his eyes in that little room on the other side of the door and see again the dark pool, her white shoulders, her graceful arms, the lovely face with its crown of sunny hair rising above the rushing water. He had listened to the roar of the wind through the long nights, when she thought him asleep if she thought of him at all, and heard again the scream of the storm that had brought her to his arms. No snow drop that touched his cheek when he was abroad but reminded him of that night in the cold rain when he had held her close and carried her on. He could not sit and mend her boot without remembering that white foot before which he would fain have prostrated himself and upon which he would have pressed passionate kisses if he had given way to his desires. But he kept all these things in his heart, pondered them and made no sign.
Did she ask beauty in her lover? Ah, there at last he failed. According to the canons of perfection he did not measure up to the standard. His features were irregular, his chin a trifle too square, his mouth a thought too firm, his brow wrinkled a little; but he was good to look at, for he looked strong, he looked clean and he looked true. There was about him, too, that stamp of practical efficiency that men who can do things always have. You looked at him and you felt sure that what he undertook, that he would accomplish; that decision and capability were incarnate in him.
But after all the things are said, love goes where it is sent, and I, at least, am not the sender. This woman loved this man neither because nor in spite of these qualities. That they were might account for her affection, but if they had not been, it may be that that affection, that that passion, would have sprung up in her heart still. No one can say, no one can tell how or why those things are. She had loved him while she raged against him and hated him. She did neither the one nor the other of those two last things, now, and she loved him the more.
Mystery is a great mover, there is nothing so attractive as a problem we cannot solve. The very situation of the man, how he came there, what he did there, why he remained there, questions to which she had yet no answer, stimulated her profoundly. Because she did not know she questioned in secret; interest was aroused and the transition to love was easy.
Propinquity, too, is responsible for many an affection. "The ivy clings to the first met tree." Given a man and woman heart free and throw them together and let there be decent kindness on both sides, and it is almost inevitable that each shall love the other. Isolate them from the world, let them see no other companions but the one man and the one woman and the result becomes more inevitable.
Yes, this woman loved this man. She said in her heart – and I am not one to dispute her conclusions – that she would have loved him had he been one among millions to stand before her, and it was true. He was the complement of her nature. They differed in temperament as much as in complexion, and yet in such differences as must always be to make perfect love and perfect union, there were striking resemblances, necessary points of contact.
There was no reason whatever why Enid Maitland should not love this man. The only possible check upon her feelings would have been her rather anomalous relation to Armstrong, but she reflected that she had promised him definitely nothing. When she had met him she had been heart whole, he had made some impression upon her fancy and might have made more with greater opportunity, but unfortunately for him, luckily for her, he had not enjoyed that privilege. She scarcely thought of him longer.
She would not have been human if her mind had not dwelt upon the world beyond the skyline on the other side of the range. She knew how those who loved her must be suffering on account of her disappearance, but knowing herself safe and realizing that within a short time, when the spring came again, she would go back to them and that their mourning would be turned into joy by her arrival, she could not concern herself very greatly over their present feelings and emotions; and besides, what would be the use of worrying over those things. There was subject more attractive for her thoughts close at hand. And she was too blissfully happy to entertain for more than a moment any sorrow.
She pictured her return and never by any chance did she think of going back to civilization alone. The man she loved would be by her side, the church's blessing would make them one. To do her justice in the simplicity and purity of her thoughts she never once thought of what the world might say about that long winter sojourn alone with this man. She was so conscious of her own innocence and of his delicate forbearance, she never once thought how humanity would elevate its brows and fairly cry upon her from the house tops. She did not realize that were she ever so pure and so innocent she could not now or ever reach the high position which Cæsar, who was none too reputable himself, would fain have had his wife enjoy?
Now love produces both happiness and unhappiness, dependent upon conditions, but on the whole I think the happiness predominates, for love itself if it be true and high is its own reward. Love may feel itself unworthy and may shrink even from the unlatching of the shoe lace of the beloved, yet it joys in its own existence nevertheless. Of course its greatest satisfaction is in the return, but there is a sweetness even in the despair of the truly loving.
Enid Maitland, however, did not have to endure indifference, or fight against a passion which met with no response, for this man loved her with a love that was greater even than her own. The moon, in the trite aphorism, looks on many brooks, the brook sees no moon but the one above him in the heavens. In one sense his merit in winning her affection for himself from the hundreds of men she knew was the greater; in many years he had only seen this one woman. Naturally she should be everything to him. She represented to him not only the woman but womankind. He had been a boy practically when he had buried himself in those mountains, and in all that time he had seen nobody like Enid Maitland. Every argument which has been exploited to show why she should love him could be turned about to account for his passion for her. Those arguments are not necessary, they are all supererogatory, like idle words. To him also love had been born in an hour. It had flashed into existence as if from the fiat of the Divine.
Oh, he had fought against it. Like the eremites of old he had been scourged into the desert by remorse and another passion, but time had done its work. The woman he first loved had ministered not to the spiritual side of the man, or if she had so ministered in any degree it was because he had looked at her with a glamour of inexperience and youth. During those five years of solitude, of study and of reflection, the truth had gradually unrolled itself before him. Conclusions vastly at variance with what he had ever believed possible as to the woman upon whom he had first bestowed his heart had got into his being and were in solution there, this present woman was the precipitant which brought them to life. He knew now what the old appeal of his wife had been. He knew now what the new appeal of this woman was.
In humanity two things in life are inextricably intermingled, body and soul. Where the function of one begins and the function of the other ends no one is able to say. In all human passions there are admixtures of the earth earthy. We are born the sons of the Old Adam as we are re-born the sons of the New. Passions are complex. As in harvest wheat and tares grow together until the end, so in love earth and heaven mingle ever. He remembered a clause from an ancient marriage service he had read. "With my body I thee worship," and with every fiber of his physical being, he loved this woman.
It would be idle to deny that, impossible to disguise the facts, but in the melting pot of passion the preponderant ingredients were mental and spiritual; and just because higher and holier things predominated, he held her in his heart a sacred thing. Love is like a rose: the material part is the beautiful blossom, the spiritual factor is the fragrance which abides in the rose jar even after every leaf has faded away, or which may be expressed from the soft petals by the hard circumstances of pain and sorrow until there is left nothing but the lingering perfume of the flower.
His body trembled if she laid a hand upon him, his soul thirsted for her; present or absent he conjured before his tortured brain the sweetness that inhabited her breast. He had been clear-sighted enough in analyzing the past, he was neither clear-sighted nor coherent in thinking of the present. He worshiped her, he could have thrown himself upon his knees to her; if it would have added to her happiness she could have killed him, smiling at her. Rode she in the Juggernaut car of the ancient idol, with his body would he have unhesitatingly paved the way and have been glad of the privilege. He longed to compass her with sweet observances. The world revenged itself upon him for his long neglect, it had summed up in this one woman all its charm, its beauty, its romance, and had thrust her into his very arms. His was one of those great passions which illuminate the records of the past. Paolo had not loved Francesca more.
Oh, yes, the woman knew he loved her. It was not in the power of mortal man, no matter how iron his restraint, how absolute the imposition of his will, to keep his heart hidden, his passion undisclosed. No one could keep such things secret. His love for her cried aloud in a thousand ways: even his look when he dared to turn his eyes upon her was eloquent of his feeling. He never said a word, however; he held his lips at least fettered and bound for he believed that honor and its obligations weighed down the balance upon the contrary side to which his inclinations lay.
He was not worthy of this woman. In the first place all he had to offer her was a blood-stained hand. That might have been overcome in his mind; but pride in his self-punishment, his resolution to withdraw himself from man and woman until such time as God completed his expiation and signified His acceptance of the penitent by taking away his life, held him inexorably.
The dark face of his wife rose before him. He forced himself to think upon her; she had loved him, she had given him all that she could. He remembered how she had pleaded with him that he take her on that last and most dangerous of journeys, her devotion to him had been so great she could not let him go out of her sight a moment, he thought fatuously! And he had killed her. In the queer turmoil of his brain he blamed himself for everything. He could not be false to his purpose, false to her memory, unworthy of the passion in which he believed she had held him and which he believed he had inspired.
If he had gone out in the world, after her death, he might have forgotten most of these things, he might have lived them down. Saner, clearer views would have come to him. His morbid self-reproach and self-consciousness would have been changed. But he had lived with them alone for five years and now there was no putting them aside. Honor and pride, the only things that may successfully fight against love, overcame him. He could not give way. He wanted to, every time he was in her presence he longed to, sweep her to his heart and crush her in his arms and bend her head back and press kisses of fire on her lips.
But honor and pride held him back. How long would they continue to exercise dominion over him? Would the time come when his passion rising like a sea would thunder upon these artificial embankments of his soul, beat them down and sweep them away?
At first the disparity between their situations, not so much on account of family or of property – the treasures of the mountains, hidden since creation, he had discovered and let lie – but because of the youth and position of the woman compared to his own maturer years, his desperate experience, and his social withdrawal, had reinforced his determination to live and love without a sign. But he had long since got beyond this. Had he been free he would have taken her like a viking of old, if he had to pluck her from amid a thousand swords and carry her to a beggar's hut which love would have turned to a palace. And she would have come with him on the same conditions.
He did not know that. Women have learned through centuries of weakness that fine art of concealment which man has never mastered. She never let him see what she thought of him. Yet he was not without suspicion; if that suspicion grew to certainty, would he control himself then?
At first he had sought to keep out of her way, but she had compelled him to come in. The room that was kitchen and bedroom and store-room for him was cheerless and somewhat cold. Save at night or when he was busy with other tasks outside they lived together in the great room. It was always warm, it was always bright, it was always cheerful, there.
The little piles of manuscript she had noted were books he had written. He made no effort to conceal such things from her. He talked frankly enough about his life in the hills, indeed there was no possibility of avoiding the discussion of such topics. On but two subjects was he inexorably silent. One was the present state of his affections and the other was the why and wherefore of his lonely life. She knew beyond peradventure that he loved her, but she had no faint suspicion even as to the reason why he had become a recluse. He had never given her the slightest clew to his past save that admission that he had known Kirkby, which was in itself nothing definite and which she never connected with that package of letters which she still kept with her.
The man's mind was too active and fertile to be satisfied with manual labor alone, the books that he had written were scientific treatises in the main. One was a learned discussion of the fauna and flora of the mountains. Another was an exhaustive account of the mineral resources and geological formations of the range. He had only to allow a whisper, a suspicion of his discovery of gold and silver in the mountains to escape him and the cañons and crests alike would be filled with eager prospectors. Still a third work was a scientific analysis of the water powers in the cañons.
He had willingly allowed her to read them all. Much of them she found technical and, aside from the fact that he had written them, uninteresting. But there was one book remaining in which he simply discussed the mountains in the various seasons of the year; when the snows covered them, when the grass and the moss came again, when the flowers bloomed, when autumn touched the trees. There was the soul of the man, poetry expressed in prose, man-like but none the less poetry for that. This book she pored over, she questioned him about it, they discussed it as they discussed Keats and the other poets.