"And what is the picture of another man doing in your wife's locket?" she asked to gain time, for she very well knew the reply; knew it, indeed, better than Newbold himself; who, as it happened, was equally in the dark both as to the man and the reason.
"I don't know," answered the other.
"Did you know this man?"
"I never saw him in my life that I can recall."
"And have you – did you – "
"Did I suspect my wife?" he asked. "Never. I had too many evidences that she loved me and me alone for a ghost of suspicion to enter my mind. It may have been a brother, or her father in his youth."
"And why did you wear it?"
"Because I took it from her dead heart. Some day I shall find out who the man is, and when I shall I know there will be nothing to her discredit in the knowledge."
Enid Maitland nodded her head. She closed the locket, laid it on the table and pushed it away from her. So this was the man the woman had loved, who had begged her to go away with him, this handsome Armstrong who had come within an ace of winning her own affection, to whom she was in some measure pledged!
How strangely does fate work out its purposes. Enid had come from the Atlantic seaboard to be the second woman that both these two men loved!
If she ever saw Mr. James Armstrong again, and she had no doubt that she would, she would have some strange things to say to him. She held in her hands now all the threads of the mystery, she was master of all the solutions, and each thread was as a chain that bound her.
"My friend," she said at last with a deep sigh, "you must forget this night and go on as before. You love me, thank God for that, but honor and respect interpose between us. And I love you, and I thank God for that, too, but for me as well the same barrier rises. Whether we shall ever surmount these barriers God alone knows. He brought us together, He put that love in our hearts, we will have to leave it to Him to do as He will with us both. Meanwhile we must go on as before."
"No," cried the man, "you impose upon me tasks beyond my strength; you don't know what love like mine is, you don't know the heart hunger, the awful madness I feel. Think, I have been alone with a recollection for all these years, a man in the dark, in the night, and the light comes, you are here. The first night I brought you here I walked that room on the other side of that narrow door like a lion pent up in bars of steel. I had only my own love, my own passionate adoration to move me then, but now that I know you love me, that I see it in your eyes, that I hear it from your lips, that I mark it in the beat of your heart, can I keep silent? Can I live on and on? Can I see you, touch you, breathe the same air with you, be shut up in the same room with you hour after hour, day after day, and go on as before? I can't do it; it is an impossibility. What keeps me now from taking you in my arms and from kissing the color into your cheeks, from making your lips my own, from drinking the light from your eyes?" He swayed near to her, his voice rose, "What restrains me?" he demanded.
"Nothing," said the woman, never shrinking back an inch, facing him with all the courage and daring with which a goddess might look upon a man. "Nothing but my weakness and your strength."
"Yes, that's it; but do not count too much upon the one or the other. Great God, how can I keep away from you. Life on the old terms is insupportable. I must go."
"Anywhere, so it be away."
"It would be death in the snow and in the mountains to-night. No, no, you can not go."
"Well, to-morrow then. It will be fair, I can't take you with me, but I must go alone to the settlements, I must tell your friends you are here, alive, well. I shall find men to come back and get you. What I cannot do alone numbers together may effect. They can carry you over the worst of the trails, you shall be restored to your people, to your world again. You can forget me."
"And do you think?" asked the woman, "that I could ever forget you?"
"I don't know."
"And will you forget me?"
"Not as long as life throbs in my veins, and beyond."
"And I too," was the return.
"So be it. You won't be afraid to stay here alone, now."
"No, not since you love me," was the noble answer. "I suppose I must, there is no other way, we could not go on as before. And you will come back to me as quickly as you can with the others?"
"I shall not come back. I will give them the direction, they can find you without me. When I say good-by to you to-morrow it shall be forever."
"And I swear to you," asserted the woman in quick desperation, "if you do not come back, they shall have nothing to carry from here but my dead body. You do not alone know what love is," she cried resolutely, "and I will not let you go unless I have your word to return."
"And how will you prevent my going?"
"I can't. But I will follow you on my hands and knees in the snow until I freeze and die unless I have your promise."
"You have beaten me," said the man hopelessly. "You always do. Honor, what is it? Pride, what is it? Self respect, what is it? Say the word and I am at your feet, I put the past behind me."
"I don't say the word," answered the woman bravely, white faced, pale lipped, but resolute. "To be yours, to have you mine, is the greatest desire of my heart, but not in the coward's way, not at the expense of honor, of self respect – no not that way. Courage, my friend, God will show us the way, and meantime good night."
"I shall start in the morning."
"Yes," she nodded reluctantly but knowing it had to be, "but you won't go without bidding me good-bye."
"Good night then," she said extending her hand.
"Good night," he whispered hoarsely and refused it backing away. "I don't dare to take it. I don't dare to touch you again. I love you so, my only salvation is to keep away."
Although Enid Maitland had spoken bravely enough while he was there, when she was alone her heart sank into the depths as she contemplated the dreadful and unsolvable dilemma in which these two lovers found themselves so unwittingly and inextricably involved. It was indeed a curious and bewildering situation. Passionate adoration for the other rose in each breast like the surging tide of a mighty sea and like that tide upon the shore it broke upon conventions, ideas, ideals and obligations intangible to the naked eye but as real as those iron coasts that have withstood the waves' assaults since the world's morning.
The man had shaped his life upon a mistake. He believed absolutely in the unquestioned devotion of a woman to whom he had been forced to mete out death in an unprecedented and terrible manner. His unwillingness to derogate by his own conduct from the standard of devotion which he believed had inhabited his wife's bosom, made it impossible for him to allow the real love that had come into his heart for this new woman to have free course; honor, pride and self respect scourged him just in proportion to his passion for Enid Maitland.
The more he loved her, the more ashamed he was. By a curious combination of circumstances, Enid Maitland knew the truth, she knew that from one point of view the woman had been entirely unworthy the reverence in which her husband held her memory. She knew that his wife had not loved him at all, that her whole heart had been given to another man, that what Newbold had mistaken for a passionate desire for his society because there was no satisfaction in life for the wife away from him was due to a fear lest without his protection she should be unable to resist the appeal of the other man which her heart seconded so powerfully. If it were only that Newbold would not be false to the obligation of the other woman's devotion, Enid might have solved the problem in a moment.
It was not so simple, however. The fact that Newbold cherished this memory, the fact that this other woman had fought so desperately, had tried so hard not to give way, entitled her to Enid Maitland's admiration and demanded her highest consideration as well. Chance, or Providence, had put her in possession of this woman's secret. It was as if she had been caught inadvertently eavesdropping. She could not in honor make use of what she had overheard, as it were; she could not blacken the other woman's memory, she could not enlighten this man at the expense of his dead wife's reputation.
Although she longed for him as much as he longed for her, although her love for him amazed her by its depth and intensity, even to bring her happiness commensurate with her feelings she could not betray her dead sister. The imposts of honor, how hard they are to sustain when they conflict with love and longing.
Enid Maitland was naturally not a little thrown off her balance by the situation and the power that was hers. What she could not do herself she could not allow anyone else to do. The obligation upon her must be extended to others. Old Kirkby had no right to the woman's secret any more than she, he must be silenced. Armstrong, the only other being privy to the truth, must be silenced too.
One thing at least arose out of the sea of trouble in a tangible way, she was done with Armstrong. Even if she had not so loved Newbold that she could scarcely give a thought to any other human being, she was done with Armstrong.
A singular situation! Armstrong had loved another woman, so had Newbold, and the latter had even married this other woman, yet she was quite willing to forgive Newbold, she made every excuse for him, she made none for Armstrong. She was an eminently sane, just person, yet as she thought of the situation her anger against Armstrong grew hotter and hotter. It was a safety valve to her feelings, although she did not realize it. After all, Armstrong's actions rendered her a certain service; if she could get over the objection in her soul, if she could ever satisfy her sense of honor and duty, and obligation, she could settle the question at once. She had only to show the letters to Newbold and to say, "These were written by the man of the picture; it was he and not you your wife loved," and Newbold would take her to his heart instantly.
These thoughts were not without a certain comfort to her. All the compensation of self-sacrifice is in its realization. That she could do and yet did not somehow ennobled her love for him. Even women are alloyed with base metal. In the powerful and universal appeal of this man to her, she rejoiced at whatever was of the soul rather than of the body. To possess power, to refrain from using it in obedience to some higher law is perhaps to pay oneself the most flattering of compliments. There was a satisfaction to her soul in this which was yet denied him.
Her action was quite different from his. She was putting away happiness which she might have had in compliance with a higher law than that which bids humanity enjoy. It was flattering to her mind. In his case it was otherwise: he had no consciousness that he was a victim of misplaced trust, of misinterpreted action; he thought the woman for whom he was putting away happiness was almost as worthy, if infinitely less desirable, as the woman whom he now loved.
Every sting of conscious weakness, every feeling of realized shame, every fear of ultimate disloyalty, scourged him. She could glory in it; he was ashamed, humiliated, broken.
She heard him savagely walking up and down the other room, restlessly impelled by the same Erinnyes who of old scourged Orestes, the violater of the laws of moral being, drove him on. These malign Eumenides held him in their hands. He was bound and helpless; rage as he might in one moment, pray as he did in another, no light came into the whirling darkness of his torn, tempest tossed, driven soul. The irresistible impulse and the immovable body the philosophers puzzled over were exemplified in him. While he almost hated the new woman, while he almost loved the old, yet that he did neither the one thing nor the other absolutely was significant.
Indeed he knew that he was glad Enid Maitland had come into his life. No life is complete until it is touched by that divine fire which for lack of another name we call love. Because we can experience that sensation we are said to be made in God's image. The image is blurred as the animal predominates, it is clearer as the spiritual has the ascendency.
The man raved in his mind. White faced, stern, he walked up and down, he tossed his arms about him, he stopped, his eyes closed, he threw his hands up toward God, his heart cried out under the lacerations of the blows inflicted upon it. No flagellant of old ever trembled beneath the body lash as he under the spiritual punishment.
He prayed that he might die at the same moment that he longed to live. He grappled blindly for solutions of the problem that would leave him with untarnished honor and undiminished self-respect and fidelity, and yet give him this woman; and in vain. He strove to find a way to reconcile the past with the present, realizing as he did so the futility of such a proposition. One or the other must be supreme; he must inexorably hold to his ideas and his ideals, or he must inevitably take the woman.
How frightful was the battle that raged within his bosom. Sometimes in his despair he thought that he would have been glad if he and she had gone down together in the dark waters before all this came upon him. The floods of which the heavens had emptied themselves had borne her to him. Oh, if they had only swept him out of life with its trouble, its trials, its anxieties, its obligations, its impossibilities! If they had gone together! And then he knew that he was glad even for the torture, because he had seen her, because he had loved her, and because she had loved him.
He marveled at himself curiously and in a detached way. There was a woman who loved him, who had confessed it boldly and innocently; there were none to say him nay. The woman who stood between had been dead five years, the world knew nothing, cared nothing; they could go out together, he could take her, she would come. On the impulse he turned and ran to the door and beat upon it. Her voice bade him enter and he came in.
Her heart yearned to him. She was shocked, appalled, at the torture she saw upon his face. Had he been laid upon the rack and every joint pulled from its sockets, he could not have been more white and agonized.
"I give up," he cried. "What are honor and self-respect to me? I want you. I have put the past behind. You love me, and I, I am yours with every fiber of my being. Great God! Let us cast aside these foolish quixotic scruples that have kept us apart. If a man's thoughts declare his guilt I am already disloyal to the other woman; deeply, entirely so. I have betrayed her, shamed her, abandoned her. Let me have some compensation for what I have gone through. You love me, come to me."
"No," answered the woman, and no task ever laid upon her had been harder than that. "I do love you, I will not deny it, every part of me responds to your appeal. I should be so happy that I cannot even think of it, if I could put my hand in your own, if I could lay my head upon your shoulder, if I could feel your heart beat against mine, if I could give myself up to you, I would be so glad, so glad. But it can not be, not now."
"Why not?" pleaded the man.
He was by her side, his arm went around her. She did not resist physically, it would have been useless; she only laid her slender hand upon his broad breast and threw her head back and looked at him.
"See," she said, "how helpless I am, how weak in your hands? Every voice in my heart bids me give way. If you insist I can deny you nothing. I am helpless, alone, but it must not be. I know you better than you know yourself, you will not take advantage of affection so unbounded, of weakness so pitiable."
Was it the wisdom of calculation, or was it the wisdom of instinct by which she chose her course? Resistance would have been unavailing, in weakness was her strength.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!
Yes, that was true. She knew it now if never before, and so did he.
Slowly the man released her. She did not even then draw away from him; she stood with her hand still on his breast, she could feel the beating of his heart beneath her fingers.
"I am right," she said softly. "It kills me to deny you anything, my heart yearns toward you, why should I deny it, it is my glory not my shame."
"There is nothing above love like ours," he pleaded, wondering what marvelous mastery she exercised that she stopped him by a hand's touch, a whispered word, a faith.
"No; love is life, love is God, but even God Himself is under obligations of righteousness. For me to come to you now, to marry you now, to be your wife, would be unholy. There would not be that perfect confidence between us that must endure in that relation. Your honor and mine, your self-respect and mine would interpose. If I can't have you with a clear conscience, if you can't come to me in the same way, we are better apart. Although it kills me, although life without you seems nothing and I would rather not live it, we are better apart. I cannot be your wife until – "
"Until what and until when?" demanded Newbold.
"I don't know," said the woman, "but I believe that somewhere, somehow, we shall find a way out of our difficulty. There is a way," she said a little incautiously, "I know it."
"Show it to me."
"No, I can not."
"The same thing which prevents you, honor, loyalty."
"To a man?"
"To a woman."
"I don't understand."
"No, but you will some day," she smiled at him. "See," she said, "through my tears I can smile at you, though my heart is breaking. I know that in God's good time this will work itself out."
"I can't wait for God, I want you now," persisted the other.
"Hush, don't say that," answered the woman, for a moment laying her hand on his lips. "But I forgive you, I know how you suffer."
The man could say nothing, do nothing. He stared at her a moment and his hand went to his throat as if he were choking.
"Unworthy," he said hoarsely, "unworthy of the past, unworthy of the present, unworthy of the future. May God forgive me, I never can."
"He will forgive you, never fear," answered Enid gently.
"And you?" asked her lover. "I have ruined your life."
"No, you have ennobled it. Let nothing ever make you forget that. Wherever you are and whatever you do and whatever you may have been, I love you and I shall love you to the end. Now you must go, it is so late, I can't stand any more. I throw myself on your mercy again. I grow weaker and weaker before you. As you are a man, as you are stronger, save me from myself. If you were to take me again in your arms," she went on steadily, "I know not how I could drive you back. For God's sake, if you love me – "
That was the hardest thing he had ever done, to turn and go out of the room, out of her sight and leave her standing there with eyes shining, with pulses throbbing, with breath coming fast, with bosom panting. Once more, and at a touch she might have yielded!
Mr. James Armstrong sat at his desk before the west window of his private room in one of the tallest buildings in Denver. His suite of offices was situated on one of the top floors and from it over the intervening house tops and other buildings, he had a clear and unobstructed view of the mighty range. The earth was covered with snow. It had fallen steadily through the night but with the dawn the air had cleared and the sun had come out brightly although it was very cold.
Letters, papers, documents, the demands of a business extensive and varied, were left unnoticed. He sat with his elbow on the desk and his head on his hand, looking moodily at the range. In the month that had elapsed since he had received news of Enid Maitland's disappearance he had sat often in that way, in that place, staring at the range, a prey to most despondent reflections, heavy hearted and disconsolate indeed.
After that memorable interview with Mr. Stephen Maitland in Philadelphia he had deemed it proper to await there the arrival of Mr. Robert Maitland. A brief conversation with that distracted gentleman had put him in possession of all the facts in the case. As Robert Maitland had said, after his presentation of the tragic story, the situation was quite hopeless. Even Armstrong reluctantly admitted that her uncle and old Kirkby had done everything that was possible for the rescue or discovery of the girl.
Therefore the two despondent gentlemen had shortly after returned to their western homes, Robert Maitland in this instance being accompanied by his brother Stephen. The latter never knew how much his daughter had been to him until this evil fate had befallen her. Robert Maitland had promised to inaugurate a thorough and extensive search to solve the mystery of her death, which he felt was certain, in the spring when the weather permitted humanity to have free course through the mountains.
Mr. Stephen Maitland found a certain melancholy satisfaction in being at least near the place where neither he nor anyone had any doubt his daughter's remains lay hid beneath the snow or ice on the mountains in the freezing cold. Robert Maitland had no other idea than that Enid's body was in the lake. He intended to drain it – an engineering task of no great difficulty – and yet he intended also to search the hills for miles on either side of the main stream down which she had gone; for she might possibly have strayed away and died of starvation and exposure rather than drowning. At any rate he would leave nothing undone to discover her.
He had strenuously opposed Armstrong's recklessly expressed intention of going into the mountains immediately to search for her. Armstrong was not easily moved from any purpose he once entertained or lightly to be hindered from attempting any enterprise that he projected, but by the time the party reached Denver the winter had set in and even he realized the futility of any immediate search for a dead body lost in the mountains. Admitting that Enid was dead the conclusions were sound of course.
The others pointed out to Armstrong that if the woman they all loved had by any fortunate chance escaped the cloud burst she must inevitably have perished from cold, starvation and exposure in the mountain long since. There was scarcely a possibility that she could have escaped the flood, but if she had it would only to be devoted to death a little later. If she was not in the lake what remained of her would be in some lateral cañon. It would be impossible to discover her body in the deep snows until the spring and the warm weather came. When the snows melted what was concealed would be revealed. Alone, she could do nothing. And admitting again that Enid was alone this conclusion was as sound as the other.
Now no one had the faintest hope that Enid Maitland was yet alive except perhaps her father, Mr. Stephen Maitland. They could not convince him, he was so old and set in his opinions and so utterly unfamiliar with the conditions that they tried to describe to him, that he clung to his belief in spite of all, and finally they let him take such comfort as he could from his vain hope without any further attempt at contradiction.
In spite of all the arguments, however, Mr. James Armstrong was not satisfied. He was as hopeless as the rest, but his temperament would not permit him to accept the inevitable calmly. It was barely possible that she might not be dead and that she might not be alone. There was scarcely enough possibility of this to justify a suspicion, but that is not saying there was none at all.
Day after day he had sat in his office denying himself to everyone and refusing to consider anything, brooding over the situation. He loved Enid Maitland, he loved her before and now that he had lost her he loved her still more.
Not altogether admirable had been James Armstrong's outwardly successful career. In much that is high and noble and manly his actions – and his character – had often been lacking, but even the base can love and sometimes love transforms if it be given a chance. The passion of Cymon for Iphigenia, made a man and prince out of the rustic boor. His real love for Enid Maitland might have done more for Armstrong than he himself or anyone who knew him as he was – and few there were who had such knowledge of him – dreamed was possible. There was one thing that love could not do, however; it could not make him a patient philosopher, a good waiter. His rule of life was not very high, but in one way it was admirable in that prompt bold decisive action was its chiefest characteristic.
On this certain morning a month after the heart breaking disaster his power of passive endurance had been strained to the vanishing point. The great white range was flung in his face like a challenge. Within its secret recesses lay the solution of the mystery. Somewhere, dead or alive, beyond the soaring rampart was the woman he loved. It was impossible for him to remain quiet any longer. Common sense, reason, every argument that had been adduced, suddenly became of no weight. He lifted his head and stared straight westward. His eyes swept the long semi-circle of the horizon across which the mighty range was drawn like the chord of a gigantic arc or the string of a mighty bow. Each white peak mocked him, the insolent aggression of the range called him irresistibly to action.
"By God," he said under his breath, rising to his feet, "winter or no winter, I go."
Robert Maitland had offices in the same building. Having once come to a final determination there was no more uncertainty or hesitation about Armstrong's course. In another moment he was standing in the private room of his friend. The two men were not alone there. Stephen Maitland sat in a low chair before another window removed from the desk somewhat, staring out at the range. The old man was huddled down in his seat, every line of his figure spoke of grief and despair. Of all the places in Denver he liked best his brother's office fronting the rampart of the mountains, and hour after hour he sat there quietly looking at the summits, sometimes softly shrouded in white, sometimes swept bare by the fierce winter gales that blew across them, sometimes shining and sparkling so that the eye could scarce sustain their reflection of the dazzling sun of Colorado; and at other times seen dimly through mists of whirling snow.
Oh, yes, the mountains challenged him also to the other side of the range. His heart yearned for his child, but he was too old to make the attempt. He could only sit and pray and wait with such faint and fading hope as he could still cherish until the break up of the spring came. For the rest he troubled nobody; nobody noticed him, nobody marked him, nobody minded him. Robert Maitland transacted his business a little more softly, a little more gently, that was all. Yet the presence of his brother was a living grief and a living reproach to him. Although he was quite blameless he blamed himself. He did not know how much he had grown to love his niece until he had lost her. His conscience accused him hourly, and yet he knew not where he was at fault or how he could have done differently. It was a helpless and hopeless situation. To him, therefore, entered Armstrong.
"Maitland," he began, "I can't stand it any longer, I'm going into the mountains."
"You are mad!"
"I can't help it. I can't sit here and face them, damn them, and remain quiet."
"You will never come out alive."
"Oh, yes I will, but if I don't I swear to God I don't care."
Old Stephen Maitland rose unsteadily to his feet and gripped the back of his chair.
"Did I hear aright, sir?" he asked with all the polished and graceful courtesy of birth and breeding which never deserted him in any emergency whatsoever. "Do you say – "
"I said I was going into the mountains to search for her."
"It is madness," urged Robert Maitland.
But the old man did not hear him.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed with deep feeling. "I have sat here day after day and watched those mighty hills, and I have said to myself that if I had youth and strength as I have love, I would not wait."
"You are right," returned Armstrong, equally moved, and indeed it would have been hard to have heard and seen that father unresponsively, "and I am not going to wait either."
"I understand your feeling, Jim, and yours too, Steve," began Robert Maitland, arguing against his own emotions, "but even if she escaped the flood, she must be dead by this time."
"You needn't go over the old arguments, Bob. I'm going into the mountains and I'm going now. No," he continued swiftly, as the other opened his mouth to interpose further objections, "you needn't say another word. I'm a free agent and I'm old enough to decide what I can do. There is no argument, there is no force, there is no appeal, there is nothing that will restrain me. I can't sit here and eat my heart out when she may be there."
"But it's impossible!"
"It isn't impossible. How do I know that there may not have been somebody in the mountains, she may have wandered to some settlement, some hunter's cabin, some prospector's hut."
"But we were there for weeks and saw nothing, no evidence of humanity."
"I don't care. The mountains are filled with secret nooks you could pass by within a stone's throw and never see into, she may be in one of them. I suppose she is dead and it's all foolish, this hope, but I'll never believe it until I have examined every square rod within a radius of fifty miles from your camp. I'll take the long chance, the longest even."
"Well, that's all right," said Robert Maitland. "Of course I intend to do that as soon as the spring opens, but what's the use of trying to do it now?"
"It's use to me. I'll either go mad here in Denver, or I must go to seek for her there."