"Yes; but please do not persuade me now."
Respecting her desire, he doffed his cap and stood aside for her to pass, bowing low before her with all the chivalry of his race, all the ardor of his youth, all the devotion of his manhood in his look and attitude.
The sweetness of the present reality so far transcended her sometime imagination of it that the girl, on leaving him, walked away as if borne by seraph's wings through the air of heaven. Yet there was a note athwart her joy, – not exactly one of sadness or of heaviness, but a feeling, as it were, of maidenly awe before the bright vistas of happiness which had opened before her eyes, in her lover's presence, in his love. Unconsciously she put her hand to her face, as if the sight dazzled her.
A little distance away Revere, having fastened the boat, followed her up the hill. She did not look back, but she could hear his feet upon the steps. He was there, then. He was looking at her as he had looked at her in the boat. He loved her. What had she done to merit this?
She stopped on the porch by the chair where her grandfather sat gazing at the ship and dreaming as usual. She bent low and kissed him as she had never kissed him before. He awoke from his reverie with a start, half comprehending, and gazed from the girl entering the door to Revere coming up the walk.
"You have been a long time, lad," he said, as the latter stopped before him.
"Yes, sir. We took luncheon together at the old inn and rowed back slowly. Your granddaughter – I shall have something to say to you in a day or two, sir."
"I hope so," said the admiral, quietly. "I thought so. But don't wait too many days. Days are as moments to the young; to the aged they are as years."
That day Barry had not left the ship. With a long, old-fashioned glass that was chief among his treasures, which had belonged to the admiral, he had followed the boat across the harbor. He had divined – by what cunning who can say? – what had been said in the pauses under the trees. He had waited and watched for them until the lovers came back. He knew it all. Twenty times during the period of their stay upon the shore he had gone down to the locker and taken out the letters.
And at last he had succumbed to the temptation. The devil had won him in the end. Hidden away in his corner of the old vessel, he opened the bundle of letters and orders. And as he painfully deciphered them, one by one, it all became clear to him. This cursed officer had come to sell the ship over their heads. He had stolen Emily's heart, and yet he was engaged to be married to another woman. The letters from Josephine Remington puzzled him; but as he slowly blundered through them, with their casual references to an engagement, with their quiet assumption that all was understood between the two, Barry became convinced that Revere was simply amusing himself with the admiral's granddaughter.
And was he to stand idle, indifferent, impotent, while these things were going on? Was the old ship to be sold and broken up? His ship! His love, too! Was that sweet flower of innocence to be rifled of the chief treasure of her womanhood and he do nothing? Was she to be robbed of her happiness, too, while he was there? No, never!
His brain reeled under the pressure of his thoughts. What should he do? What could he do? In what way might he compass the destruction of this man? Save the ship and save the girl, too!
Ah! Like to one of old in his blindness, there flashed an idea into his mind, as he stood there with the crumpled letters in his clinched hand. At first it startled him. It was so bold; in a way it was so terrible. But he had brooded too long to look at that idea in more than one light. With the one thought of revenge upon the man who he imagined intended to sell the ship, and who would gain Emily Sanford, he brooded upon the notion until it took entire possession of him, and then, although it involved his own destruction, he grimly prepared to put it in practice.
The rest of the afternoon passed swiftly enough for Revere, because he was busy. He wrote a long letter to Josephine Remington, telling her frankly the whole situation: how he had met this girl, how he had loved her, how he had struggled against the feeling that had sprung up in his heart, honorably intending to keep his engagement, but each moment convinced him of the depth and fervor of this sudden affection. How he had come to the conclusion that it was not fair to bind her to a man who, while he admired and respected her, while he should ever hold her in the highest regard, did not, and could not, love her.
He had written to her thus frankly that she might break the engagement. He could not, he said, flatter himself that she loved him, or that it meant much to her; yet if he grieved her, he humbly begged her pardon, and hoped that some day, when she truly loved some one, she would find excuse for him.
It was fearfully hard to write such a letter, and as he read it over it seemed almost brutal in its frankness. Yet he reasoned that it were better to write it as he had than to attempt to conceal the facts; still, it was with many misgivings and thoroughly sick at heart at the unfortunate plight in which he had involved himself that he sealed it up.
The other letter was to the Secretary of the Navy. Revere reported faithfully the condition of the ship, estimated carefully what he thought she would be worth as firewood, – for the materials in her were fit for no other purpose, – and then frankly offered to buy her himself for twice the value he had put upon her. In a private letter, which he had enclosed in his official report, the secretary being an old friend of his family, he told why he wished to purchase the ship. He told him about the admiral, and the old sailor, and the admiral's granddaughter. He made him see very clearly that it would kill the old man to have the ship broken up, and, since he possessed ample means, he wished to have the privilege of purchasing it himself and saying nothing about it to the admiral, or to any one, – letting it stand where it was as long as it would. As a matter of fact, it would fall to pieces in a short time he was certain, and the admiral need never know anything about the transaction, provided the secretary were willing.
If there was any doubt as to the accuracy of his valuation of the ship, he suggested that another officer could be sent to appraise her, and he stood ready to pay twice the amount of the next appraisement for the privileges of ownership. In fact, the matter would best be done that way. It was a nice letter, and he felt sure his request would be granted.
Revere felt much better when he had completed these two letters. He felt that he could save the ship for the old admiral, and that he could save his honor as well by his tardy action. He gave the letters to his man, directing him to mail the one to the Secretary of the Navy, and get a horse and ride back to his mother's summer home at Alexandria Bay, deliver the other in person, and bring the answer to him immediately. He could not hear too quickly from Josephine.
The admiral retired early that evening, – was it from a consideration of past experience, thought Revere, – so the two lovers were left alone.
"Emily," said the young lieutenant, coming over toward her as the door closed behind the old veteran.
"No, no, not here, I beg of you!" said the girl, rising to her feet. "Come, let us go out into the moonlight. Down to the old ship. It should be a part – a witness – of our betrothal. I, too, have loved it. The earliest recollections of my childhood are about it. It has been a part of my life as well. Come, let us go."
She extended her hand to him as she spoke. He took it gravely, and the two stepped out of the house and stood upon the porch. The moonlight streamed across the old ship, standing lonely and still upon the Point beneath them. The cracks and crannies, the gaping seams of the broken, mouldering sides, the evidences of decay, were hidden in the shadows cast by the soft splendor.
They walked down to it and stopped in its shadow. Black, solid, and terrible in the silver light it loomed above their heads. They stood almost beneath it, and it towered into the skies above them. A trick of the imagination would have dowered it with spars covered with clouds of snowy canvas, and launched it upon the sea of dreams.
The girl still held the hand of the young officer. He waited for her pleasure, something telling him he should not wait in vain.
"I brought you here, Richard," she said, at last, very gravely, "that the old ship might hear you say," – the words came from her in a faint whisper, – "that the ship might hear you say – you – loved me. Here I have stood often, gazing out upon the water, dreaming and waiting. Waiting for you, Richard, dreaming of you. And here you come to me and here – I give myself to you."
She faced him as she spoke and took his other hand. He stared at her in the shadow of the ship. The little autumn breeze swept softly over their faces. Slowly he bent his head toward her. She awaited him, smiling faintly, her heart beating half fearfully. It was so new and sweet. Then his lips met her own; he kissed her, he swept her to his breast, he gathered her in his arms. Her head lay upon his shoulder, her face was upturned to his. Her eyes were light in the darkness to him. The perfume of her breath enveloped him. A faint, passionate sigh of joy and content ineffable escaped her. He drank in the white, exquisite perfection of feature so close to him; the purity of her soul spoke there equally with the passion of her heart. She was his, his own; she loved him, she gave herself to him! May God deal so with him as he dealt with her!
"I love you, I love you!" he murmured.
Pity 'tis that there is no new word for each new meeting and mating of human hearts in this old world.
Pity 'tis that the words we say so lightly, that we use so frequently of things of less, of little, moment, should be the only ones we have with which to voice the deepest feeling of our being. Yet when the hour strikes, to each heart they come with the freshness of a new revelation, with the assurance of an eternal truth undiscovered until that hour. Never again would Emily be so happy as in that supreme moment of avowal and confession.
"I love you, I love you!"
It was only a whisper. She would have felt the truth had he been voiceless.
"I love you, I love you!"
It was but a murmur that blended with the sigh of the wind, that harmonized with the sound made by the breeze as it swept through the cracks and crannies of the ship, yet another listened, another heard.
Profanation to the royal arcanum of their hearts!
One had marked them descending the hill, one had divined that they would stop by the ship, one had gone down into the grim, black depths of the monster and with his ear pressed against the riven side had heard, and in the hearing had understood what he could not see.
So despair, heart-break, envy, jealousy, raged a few feet from love and joy and peace ineffable.
So in life it happens. Was there not a serpent in the Garden of Eden?
As he heard the sound of lip on lip, the break of kisses, and the murmur of caressing words, the man listening could endure no more. He turned and stumbled blindly away. Had it been mid-day he could not have seen where he went.
The sound of his going startled Emily.
"What is that?" she cried; "something moving on the ship!"
They listened, but Barry had gone far enough away by that time for them not to hear him more.
"'Twas nothing, dearest," answered Revere, holding her tenderly to him; "a piece of timber, a loosened plank, a tottering frame. The newest and best of ships are full of strange sounds, much more these old ones."
"Bit by bit it wears away," said the girl, sadly.
"Ay, sweet, old things go, but new ones come," answered Revere. "Life ends, yes, but new life begins. It begins for us. Come. We have told the ship the story. Let us go back to the hill."
"Keep thou the secret, old ship," said Emily, fancifully, yet half in earnest; "tell it not while thou livest, and if thou must fall, let it perish with thee."
She bent and kissed the plank. Where she kissed it Barry had listened. The whisper of love and the oath of despair, – a few inches of sheathing alone divided them.
"That kiss, sweetest," said Revere, gravely, as they walked up the hill, "has made the ship immortal in my heart. It shall stand until it falls away. I was sent here by the government to sell the ship. It was to be destroyed."
"Oh, Richard!" she cried in sudden anxiety and alarm at his words.
"Nay, love; say nothing of it to any one. It shall not be."
"Who will prevent it?"
"You! But how?"
"I shall buy it myself and let it stand as long as it will."
"How good you are!" she exclaimed, greatly relieved. "But, Dick, are you rich enough to buy a whole ship yourself?"
"My darling," he answered, "since you kissed me I think I have the mines of Golconda at my command."
"Ah, but kisses won't buy ships," returned the wise maiden. "Seriously, Richard?"
"Seriously, dearest, I suppose I am rich enough to buy anything I want; that is, anything in reason that is buyable. No fortune could put a price upon you, I am afraid."
"Nonsense, Dick!" said the girl. "Are you as rich as that?"
"I am of the opinion that I am," he said, somewhat reluctantly; he could not exactly comprehend why. "Does it disappoint you?"
"No, I believe not," she answered, doubtfully. "I never dreamed of such a thing, I'll admit. I always thought we would have a little cottage somewhere – "
"Of course. We. I was waiting for you, you know."
"Well, dearest, I hope you will become accustomed to something larger than a cottage. Money has some advantages, you know."
"I doubt not I shall if you will teach me. Oh, Dick, I am so happy! I feel so sorry for that other girl."
"What other girl?" he asked, faintly conscience-smitten.
"Josephine, you know. The girl you saved."
Her words struck him like a blow. They brought him to himself. He had to tell her the truth. They were by this time sitting side by side on the gun-carriage on the little platform overlooking the brow of the hill.
"Emily, dearest," said Revere, desperately. He hated to do it; he told himself that he was a fool to say anything, yet her presence and her trust compelled him. "I have something to confess to you. I cannot allow a shadow of deceit to rest on our happiness this heavenly night, and even though it hurts you – "
"Tell me, Dick," she said, as he lingered, reluctant to speak, "whatever it may be. I think I have had happiness enough to last a lifetime as it is; and you love me, don't you? It is not that you do not?"
"Love you? I worship you!"
"Then nothing can matter much," she interrupted.
"But I must say it," he persevered; "I am – I was engaged to marry – "
"Josephine?" a note of terror in the exclamation.
"Yes," with great contrition.
There was a long silence. The girl shrank away from him. She hid her face in her hands, but she did not weep. That would come later. Was she not to be happy, after all?
He felt so guilty and conscience-stricken that he made no attempt to restrain her movement of avoidance, although he longed to take her in his arms again.
"Oh, Richard, how could you?" she said at last, the misery and reproach in her voice cutting him to the heart.
"I could not help it."
It was the old answer that seems so weak, so futile, so foolish, and yet the only answer that could be given; a vague reply, and yet she comprehended.
"I've been a mean coward," he exclaimed. "But at least I love you, and I could not help it."
"Yes, I believe that – that you love me, I mean, – but you could have helped it," she answered, faintly.
"Well, I ought to have helped it," he admitted, in honest misery; "but I love you, and before you it was hard to be silent."
"But you loved the other girl before?"
"No, never, I swear to you!"
"Look me in the face, Richard."
She turned him about in the moonlight and gazed at him keenly, passionately, hungrily almost. He met her glance undaunted. The incubus of the secret was lifted from him – he was another man, even though still bound.
"Emily, I swear to you that my heart has never beat quicker at the thought of her since I have known her. Believe that."
"Yes, I do believe," said the girl, trustingly, at last.
"It is true, and you may. It was an engagement entered into as a sort of family affair, and I never cared anything about it one way or the other. I thought it would be rather pleasant – "
"Is that all?"
"Yes, on my honor, until I met you; and then I knew it could never be."
"You said you were engaged to her, Richard. What do you mean by that?"
"As soon as I could after I had spoken to you this afternoon I wrote to her, telling her the truth about my love for you and giving her a chance to break the engagement."
"Where is the letter?"
"It is gone."
"Suppose she will not break it?"
"She will, of course."
"Dick, I know that she loves you. I know she won't give you up. Oh, my heart is breaking!"
"Nonsense; she doesn't love me at all!"
"No woman could help it who knew you as I do," decidedly.
"No one knows me as you do, dearest. To no one have I ever shown my heart, myself, as I have shown them to you. She must give me up; she shall! I tell you I will marry no woman but you, no matter what happens!"
"And I, Dick, will marry no one but you. But, oh, the pity of it! Why didn't I know you before?"
"But you believe me, don't you, that I love you, only you?"
"Yes, yes, I believe," mournfully.
"And you will trust me?"
"Yes, I suppose I will have to trust you," she answered.
"But you won't do that merely because you have to, will you?" pleaded the young man, coming nearer to her.
"No," she said at last, faintly. "I will trust you because I – I love you."
He suddenly swept her to his breast again and kissed her once more. But she did not return his kiss, and immediately thrust him away from her.
"Please do not do that again, Richard; at least not yet," she murmured, as she resolutely disengaged herself from his embrace. "Poor girl! you don't love her. And now good-night. I must think – it's all so strange – I don't know. We will talk over what is best in the morning."
"But you love me still? You won't let this make any difference, will you?" he pleaded, in deadly anxiety, stretching out his hands to her.
"It won't make any difference in my love, – nothing will ever change that," she answered, sadly; "but it makes a great difference in my happiness."
Poor Emily! she was just learning that the beginning of a woman's love is forgiveness.
In the oldest of Books is written, "It is not good that man should be alone," and the saying is as true as it is ancient. The human being who looks at things through but one pair of eyes – his own – is apt to receive distorted impressions, to see strange visions, and to dream fearful dreams.
To be solitary is to go mad. Society is the preserver and promoter of intelligence and all the virtues; alas! of many of the vices as well. Men – ay, and women, too – have tried to dispense with humanity, seeking something higher. They have withdrawn themselves from the world a while, and, far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife, in the vast expanse of some limitless desert, or upon some rough-ribbed Sinai's rocky crest, in seclusion from the sound of tongues and the war of men, have sought to draw near to God.
And they have not found Him. Rather Satan has entered into them and they have become victims of diabolic obsession. For God is in the people. The human touch conveys the divine. The attrition of men is the outward force that makes character. Life is to fit in and be a part of daily duty among common men. So other and higher life is won.
Barry was a man, alone, – a madman now. Revere had added the finishing touch by breaking in upon the man's solitude. The admiral was becoming only a daily duty to the sailor. Habit had almost encysted his affection for his superior. As Emily had approached womanhood she had drawn away from Barry. He worshipped her from a greater and greater distance, constantly increasing. And now that she loved one of her own age and her own class, the old man felt that she had almost vanished from his sight. The last link that held him in touch with humanity was breaking. Should he not strike while there was time? Love was not for him, but hate is everybody's. He should claim his portion.
The rotting ship was his mountain, his desert, his hermitage. Its bare, gaunt timbers were his horizon. He looked, he listened, he read again the letters, he agonized, he broke, and was lost. And when the devil came to him, under the guise of good to be accomplished, he found a place ready, swept and garnished for him.
Oh, poor, blind, possessed old sailor!