T h e   S t o r y   o f    a n   A f f i n i t y

Part III

So had our Richard through triumphant toil
And steadfast will, and prospering fortunes grown
To his soul’s spreading stature, and fulfilled
His being’s purpose, but for Margaret,
Secluded in her country home, and far
Removed from the magnetic touch of life
The years had brought a differing destiny.
Little by little the monotonous round
Of duties and incessant petty cares
Absorbed her, slowly deadening at the heart
The joyous fervour of her early dreams.
The neighbouring life—the life of struggling souls—
Bound in its narrow range of earthly needs—
A mist of melancholy industry—
O’ertopped her spirit with its sober pall.
At first she battled with it, throwing off
The imprisoned force and passion of her soul
In wayward and unusual deeds, and storms
Of secret weeping. Often she surprised
The quiet country folk with her strange moods
Of bitter scoffing and her wild discourse.
But not for long; this passed; and gradually
The gentler will, the store of helpful love,
That formed her spirit’s mainstay in the end,
Rose paramount, and daily broadening
Enwrapt her in its sweet and luminous calm.
In the third year a bitter grief befell;
She wept upon her mother’s new-made grave
And though still heavier about her thoughts
The bondage of the quiet household grew,—
For Margaret and her father were alone—
She grieved not, nor complained; her father’s touch
Was dear to her, and she had grown to love,
Already, with a homely sympathy
The silent house, the stolid country ways
The gentle service, the unruffled peace,
The freshness and the beauty of the fields.

But ever at her motive core of life,
Deep-hidden, far-within, there lingered still,
Unquenchable, the sense of lost desire,

Of cramped and fettered capability,
The adventurous yearning for the freer sway:
Nor did the outward habit of her days
Lack heat or lustre from that inner fire:
Through all their slow routine with watchful eye
Finding in every smallest chance some food
Or sport for the unconquerable mind,
She kept a certain amplitude of thought,
And sleepless movement of the nimble wit.
Through all the countryside her name was known
And honoured. By her keen and gracious ways,
Her bright activity, and speech so full
Of kindling laughter, and of grave discourse,
She drew the best about her, and, as time
Went on, planted in many a genial soil
The seeds of knowledge and divine desire.
Among the neighbouring women she became,
With her soft touch and ever-ready ear,
A priestess and a confidant to all
Who strove with any dark perplexity,
Or grief, or any sickness of the soul.
But most she loved to gather at her heels
The children on their sunny holidays,
And tell them stories of the birds and flowers,
The grasses and the lofty forest trees,
Weaving a web of tender allegories,
Wherein some core of spiritual beauty shone.
Or she would read to them from books, or round
The doorsteps on the murmurous summer nights
Unveil to them in simple sweet replies,
Fraught with such knowledge as their minds could take,
The wonder and the mysteries of the stars.
So with perpetual movement and the use
Of all the simpler functions of the soul
Margaret maintained a sturdy happiness.
Only at moments, rare, and quickly healed,
Of sharpened consciousness and lost repose,
Perceiving underneath its cloak of ash
That dim and secret smouldering at her heart
Of formless yearning and unnamed regret.

Long years passed on without event or change,
And then another gradual influence
Began to shape the current of her life.
One day—’twas in the midmost noise and heat
Of a fierce-fought electoral campaign—
A lawyer from a busy neighbouring town,
Searching the country here and there for votes
Tied up his horse at Jacob Hawthorne’s farm.
An hour he spent in earnest talk, at first
With Hawthorne, then with Margaret, for in her
He found a mind as quick as wind to catch
The wider drift and purpose of his speech,
A nobler and a juster listener.
When all his end was gained, and from the shy
Close farmer a plain promise had been won,
For a long while the lawyer still talked on,
Fastened by Margaret’s bright and kindling grace,
Her beauty and the music of her voice.
Parting reluctantly at last he bore,
Through the long remnant of that busy day
With all its chaff and chatter, a heart full
Of mellow meditations mixed and pricked
With strange uneasiness and soft regrets.
Before a week was over, he had found
Some pretext for another call, and still
Another followed, till at length he grew
A frequent figure at the lonely farm.

This lawyer—John Vantassel—was a man
Of mark and value in the neighbouring town,
Honoured and loved by most, and feared by some,

Proud, generous, quick to think and do,
Given to anger in tempestuous gusts,
But easily placable—a man full-framed,
And of a keen and ruddy countenance;
And Margaret liked him, valuing at its worth
The honest strength that gave him worth with all.
On many a summer evening, ere the dusk
Had fallen, by a short and private path,
Striding at will across the cooling fields,
He came, with his light heart and merry tongue,
A welcome visitor; and Margaret
Would let him help her at her flowers, or down
The many-murmured mountain-shadowed lanes,
Or far upon the lonely country roads,
The two would stroll, filling the careless hours
With endless and contented talk. So years
Passed by, and Margaret grew to like
The bright companion of her easiest hours,
The goodness of his soul, his boyant ways;
She liked him, but her heart remained untouched.
Even from the first Vantassel well divined
His suit must be a long and difficult one;
And so, being a wise and resolute man,
He laid his siege with slow and patient care,
Until by gradual stages there grew up
In Margaret’s heart such friendship as not love
Could have made truer, albeit passion-free;
The friendship which in women is more rare,
More self-forgetful and of finer touch
Than that of man for man. At times indeed
She questioned of the future, knowing well
That he who sought her friendship with such zeal
Must needs be suitor to her in the end;
And once or twice, when he had somehow dared
To tremble on the edge of love-making,
She warned and checked him with a sudden chill
Or rapid altering of her mood that feigned
A blindness to the meaning of his speech.
As time went on, even this thought became
Less strange, less fearful to her; she would fain
Have utterly forgot her former dreams,
And banished from the woman’s settled life
The lingering aspirations of the girl.

One night when Margaret and her friend had paced
For a long while the dewy orchard path

In talk that somehow deepened to a note
More sharply from the heart than ever before,
Vantassel, lingering by the orchard bars,
Forgot the long kept caution, and poured forth
The fiery volume of his hoarded love:
And Margaret, standing, with the silent night
Above her, and around her feet, sharp-thrown,
The dark and motionless shadows of the trees,
Stirred not, nor spoke for a long thoughtful while,
Looking far out across the murmurous fields,
And then she turned, and with a gaze of fear,
And passionate trouble, and perplexity,
Full on Vantassel’s set and pallid face:
“Oh, do not ask me now!” she cried, “not now;
Leave me a little while—a day, a week;
Give me a week and I will answer you;”
And, when Vantassel, bending to her will,
Had passed the meadows and the farthest fields,
And vanished by the looming mountainside
In vasty shadows, Margaret still remained,
Gazing far forth across the shadowy slopes,
Surcharged with passionate thought. She scarcely heard
The countless voices of primeval life,
That round her in the deep and dewy dark
Haunted the motionless trees and thronged the grass;
Nor saw the moon, the golden harvest moon,
Rise from the woodland, shedding slowly down
On all the silvery meadows of the world
Her magic of old memories and dreams.
With hands tight-clasped upon the topmost bar
She stood and in her busy mind reviewed
All the past course and movement of her life,
That life, so simple in its outward marks,
But inwardly so complex and so full
Of doubt and struggle. With the clearest eyes
She saw the narrowed current of her days
Flow forward in the groove the years had made.
Her destiny was named, and fixed, and now
Rebellion seemed a vain and hopeless thing.
Her life with John Vantassel would be still
The same long round of plain activities,
Performed upon a little larger field;
And he was dear to her, as a close friend;
She knew him kindly, faithful, and sincere,
And she could trust him. When she turned at last
Into the homeward path between the trees,
Walking with gently bended head, she gave
The lawyer’s longed-for answer in her heart,
And sealed it solemnly with sacred vows.

One morning to the Hawthorne folk there came

The word that Richard Stahlberg had returned,
And that he would be with them, ere that day
Had come to end. Margaret was well pleased
At thought of Richard’s visit, and her mind
Kept running all day long upon it, touched
With curious excitement; Richard’s fame
Had rung so often in her ears, the talk
Of every household in the neighbouring farms;
A sort of mythic splendour wrapt it round.
The story of these long and arduous years,
His patient labour and his rare success,
Had grown familiar to her thoughts, retold
Again and yet again with eloquent joy
By Richard’s mother, sometimes at the glow
Of the red firelight in the winter nights,
The rapid needles glistening in their hands;
Or sometimes in long summer afternoons
When apples were selected, peeled, and cored,
And quartered, and with busy care spread out
On boards to tan and shrivel in the sun.
And Margaret had been flattered by the tale,
Remembering with a subtle sense of power
That curious meeting by the orchard tree,
The boy’s wild bearing, and the violent change,
And his strange burst of crude and passionate speech
And now the sense that she should face once more
The powerful man, to whom perchance some touch
Of her own soul had given the need to grow,
Thrilled her with vague and indefinable thoughts.

When Richard passed that evening through the lanes,

And up the well-remembered orchard path,
He had the sense of one that went with power
To claim a fortune given by destiny,
He could not think that that mysterious spell—
He deemed its source to be affinity—
Whose touch had spurred his clouded soul to life,
Would miss its fated goal, and not demand
Reaction on the heart from which it sprang.
He trod the dim-lit gravelly path, and reached
The grass-plot and the garden-beds that made
An odorous round before the farm-house door,—
A many-hued ellipse of lawn and flowers—
And just as he had pictured her in dreams
Margaret rose smiling from the gallery steps
And came to meet him, bearing in her eyes
And gracious tread the welcome long desired.

Margaret was less slender than of yore,
Her figure firmlier set, her face less pale.
To her grey eyes the kindling ardours sprang
Less often, with a graver brilliancy:

Yet was she in all more nobly beautiful
Than when she talked with Richard years ago.
Her gentle poise of head, her fearless grace
Of mien and movement, and her candid look
So full of sunny thought and sovereign strength,
The music of her voice made mellower
With deeper chords and tenderer cadences;
Her smile that some rare knowledge seemed to haunt
With glimmers of mysterious tenderness;
All this combined to heighten and endow
The presence of her perfect womanhood
With charm and influence gracious and supreme;
To Richard, as he met her with wrapt gaze
Her beauty, with its ardour manifest
Of truth and gentleness, awoke at once
The glorious vision of that earlier youth,
And loosed the long-locked flood-gates of his heart.
In passion for a moment uncontrolled
He looked upon her with such fervid eyes
As never yet had dared to meet her own,
And, taking both her hands between his two,
Murmured with lips half-trembling: “Margaret!”;
And Margaret’s eyes fell, stricken and abashed,
And her cheeks reddened, but her helpless hands
Remained in Richard’s having no power to move;
And a strange light broke in upon her soul,
A rushing thought, so sudden, so enforced,
It robbed her of control, and made her sense
A trembling tumult, whereof joy and pain
Were equal parts; for at a single look
She saw, not the pale student lured at last
Back to old scenes and former friends, from books
And charmèd studies drawn reluctantly,
But the strong lover, here at last to lay
In hope and anxious triumph at her feet
The fruit of giant toils for her sake borne,
And claim the dreamed reward. This too she saw
By the swift heart-stroke of intuitive sense
That he had gone beyond her, and stood now
Her spiritual master, large, and armed with power.
She felt, rather than saw, the beauty that abode
In his great stature, noble and erect,
In the large head, still clustered with its curls,
The broad brow, pale and open, and made full
With study and the gathered weight of mind,
The bright blue eyes with dreams and passion charged
The mouth, not dull, nor frenzied, as of old,
But lightly set, supremely sensitive.
She knew, as by a passionate gift of sight,
That this man was her soul’s repository
Of strength and trust, her spirit’s answering type,
The man that she could dream of; so it fell
That for a moment like a girl she stood
Flushed and tongue-tied, but Richard marking this
Released her hands, and turning to her side
Went forward with her up the quiet walk;
And both regaining in a moment’s space
Command of thought and speech, their tongues were loosed
In talk about the farm, the country life,
The playmates of their childhood, of the times
Gone by and of the present. Richard drew
From Margaret in her full and mellow voice,
Touched with soft flashes of all-loving wit,
The scanty annals of her own quiet years;
And then, led by her questioning sympathy
Sketched out his own more varied story, not as yet
Daring to link the motive of his toil
With thought or her, nor ever bearing back
Her memory to that sacred turning point
And magic moment of the past. His soul,
Filled with her presence, her delicious speech,
The brightness of her eyes, rested content
In dreamlike joy and glowing quietude;
And Margaret too, so captured, so surprised,
All other thoughts forgotten and cast by,
Gave herself wholly to the wondrous spell,
The deep excitement that she dared not name.
And so ’twas almost midnight, and above
At the sheer purple zenith and beside
The midmost ridge and milky wreathe of heaven,
Shone Vega like a pulsing star of love,
When Richard, to his triter sense recalled,
Parted from Margaret by the garden-beds,
And strode, flame-footed, homeward, thro’ the fields.

And Margaret, slowly gathering up her thoughts

Out of the mist of blind emotion, sat
In the broad porch, a dim and odorous bower,
Framed and built up of honey-suckle bloom,
And strove to read her heart. One thing she knew
That Richard’s presence like the stinging draught
Of some unknown elixir, hot with Youth
Had stript her soul and robbed it utterly
Of all its guarded vesture of content,
Its gathered veils and careful barriers
Of stoic crystal-clear philosophy.
Ten years had vanished like a midnight mist,
And all the old unrest, the spiritual strife,
The nameless yearning, kindled and rerisen,
Possessed her heart with ten-fold passionate power.
Like a bright herald from the outer world,
Whose pride and splendor always had for her
A fascination, pregnant with revolt,
Richard had come and with his radiant touch,
His earnest eyes, and voice of ardour, filled
With limitless suggestions to her soul,
Laid open the old dreamed of path, so lit
And goldened with emotion new and sweet,
She dared not yet regard it with full gaze.
And now upon her startled heart returned
The memory of the recent days, the thought
Of John Vantassel and his patient love,
Of the strong, faithful and so generous man,
Whose friendship she had valued and found sweet.
She knew that by an inward vow, as clear
As any outward, she had given herself
To him, yet saw that the slow ripened thought
Sprang from a life that was not hers at all,
Nor was the offspring of her natural being.
A storm of struggle rose within her soul.
In marriage with Vantassel she beheld
The certain failure of one half her life,
And yet their friendship had been close and sweet.
To set aside his love, to break the troth
So consciously heart-given, the cold thought
Filled her with horror, and her spirit shrank
In dread and agony.

                              Hour after hour
That night upon her racked and sleepless bed
Margaret lay watching with wide eyes. She saw
Beyond her open window with its frame
Of vines, the moving stars, the silver gleam

Of branches hung with peach-leaves in the moon,
The glimmering hillside and the silent trees.
Her thoughts rushed ever crowding back and forth,
Too full of questioning, too madly swift
For tears. The sleep that came at last with dreams
Held her enchanted in a luminous land
With vivid journeys and fantastic flights
Of feverish joy. With the first-streaming gold
That crossed her window from the rising sun,
She woke in anguish, weary and heartsore.

That evening, when the common tasks were done,
And all the tea-things washed and laid away,
And everything made spotless for the night,
Margaret, grave-eyed, amid the falling dusk,
Was busy with her flowers. Her troubled heart
Had worn itself to rest, the sluggish rest
Of very weariness, and when the clack
Of the closed gate and jar of Richard’s feet
On the sharp gravel, broke upon her ear,
She hushed her spirit with an inward word
And rose to meet him, blindly purposing
To keep her heart in check. She dared not now
Look full in Richard’s fixèd eyes, too bright,
Too dangerously potent with the sense
Of worship and possession. Richard marked
Her charier smile, her pallor, her tired eyes.
He strove to read them, and a pang of doubt
Startled his thoughts and made them less secure.
Long in the lingering twilight up and down
The dewy walks and by the orchard path
They strolled, and talked, and Richard gathered heart
And Margaret under the reviving spell,
Yielding little by little to its power,
Grew well nigh reckless. Richard told at length
The story of his life, and sketched his plans
For the great future—things that fired her thoughts
And roused the old deep-hid enthusiasm,
And drew her to him with mysterious arms
Of pride and yearning. They had come at last
Down to the very spot—the rustic seat—
The well-known tree, whose every feature fixed
In Richard’s memory, now again beheld,
Under the silent sanction of the stars,
Spurred him beyond control of doubt or fear.
He had talked long, and Margaret had replied,
With a wan touch of hunger in her voice:
“You who have toiled so bravely and so well,
Have learned so much and gained so much from life
Must you not think me weak and slight indeed,
Me who have lost what little light I had,
Who have gone backward in the march of mind,
And let the sacred fire decline and die,
Grown over with neglect and petty cares?”
And Richard turned upon her with grand eyes,
His voice shaken with passion: “Margaret!
’Tis that that I have dreamed of all these years,
That I, grown to the utmost of myself,
Might some day thankfully bring back to you
The life you gave to me. Do you not know
That that which broke the fetters from my soul
Was love, the love of you; and that alone
Has nerved my heart and made me what I am.
This light, I know, could never have flashed forth
With such quick charm, such fruitful potency,
Unless our answering spirits had been charged
With a like force, and fated sympathy.
I dreamed it always, and these final hours
Have made me sure of it. Henceforth as one
Let us take up the way together, each
Made stronger by the other’s loving touch.
Shall it not be so, Margaret, beloved?”
And Margaret looked full in Richard’s face
With eyes wherein a terrible brightness shone,
And her hands clenched with effort, and her face
Grew whiter than white lilies to the lips;
For all was now so simple, could she waive
The word of every teacher but the hour,
Could she but let the golden moment rule,
Forgetful of all else; but through her heart
Still reigned the guardian spirit of her life,
Relentless with a stern and silent power,
The queenly honour that she must not soil.
And Richard with outstretched and eager arms
Drew near her murmuring still her name; but she
Drew back, and striving with herself at last
Found strength to speak: “Oh, I have been unwise
Not to have warned you at the first, and yet
I was not sure you loved me. You are true
And know that faith and honour must be kept.
You would not deem me worthy if I broke
My solemn troth. What you would ask of me
Another has already claimed and won.”

Thus Margaret, bravely, with half-broken speech;
And Richard answered filled with fierce despair:
“O Margaret, you love me; in your heart

You love me, and before this sacred love
All other cold resolves are swept away.
Remember what unites us; it is law—
A law so deep and sacred that our hearts
Must yield and follow its command, or break;
How can you think of any bond, but this!”
And all the woman rose in Margaret’s breast,
The yearning, and the yielding tenderness;
And the wild power that tugged at both their hearts
A moment kept her spellbound. Richard’s arms
Had almost wound her in their reckless grasp,
When she sprang from him, and: “No! No!” she cried,
“I cannot; you, if you are brave and kind,
Go now, and leave me; think no more of me;
I must be true!” and Margaret, very pale,
Turned from him, and with swift and steady steps
Went up between the dark and silent trees,
And through the garden and the dreaming porch.
With her last strength she climbed the narrow stair,
And found her room, and sank beside her bed,
And laid her head between her hands and wept.

For a long time, like one blinded and stunned,
Richard stood moveless on the orchard path;
And then, little by little, like cloud
That spreading brings the tempest, the mute maze,

Impending over all his soul, dissolved
In madness and immeasurable grief.
He sought the house and lingered at the porch,
And roamed the garden, calling: “Margaret!”
And then he strode away, and walked for hours
About the midnight fields and through the woods,
Till once again, not knowing how it fell,
He found himself beneath the silent walls
Of the dark-eaved and dreaming house, and knew
The porch and the beloved garden beds;
And a great fear possessed him, for he seemed
To feel the gathering of a heavy mist
About his soul, and with it came the thought
That as the hope of Margaret from the first
Had given him power, so now, the dream destroyed,
The former impotent cloud-life might return.
The sleepless night passed over Margaret’s head,
And fanning forth in crimson from the East
The Summer morning brought the happy sun,
Golden and glowing; but to Margaret’s heart
The anguish of the thing that she had done
Rose in its naked horror palpable.
She had beat down the true and perfect love,
And dashed away the sparkling cup of life,
Wounding the hand that held it. Not alone
Of her own grief she thought, but Richard’s face,
With its wild stare of blight and agony,
Stood fixed before her, an accusing ghost.
To Richard with his years of toil and hope
Ruin was written in the shattered dream.
All day she wandered through the house and strove
To gain the freedom of her wonted tasks;
In vain; and all was blind before her, will
And purpose shifting idly in the toss
Of thought made weak and masterless by grief.

That day across the fields, so often trod
With easier heart Vantassel came to seek
His answer, wearing in his handsome face
Care-furrows and unwonted wistfulness.
Margaret had marshalled all her strength and tried
To meet him brightly; but he read her face;
He saw its weary pallor, and the lines
Of strife and suffering, and he marked the change
To effort in her once so gracious speech,
The dull embarrassment that clogged her smile,
And made it piteous. When the evening meal
Was over, and the two were now alone,
Vantassel standing in the arboured porch
With all his nerves in governance, tightly strung,
Spoke softly with a gentle hand on hers:
“You know why I have come to-night, my friend;
My week is over, and it seems a year,—
Each day so full of doubt, and clinging hope.
Can you not give me now the one bright word
Whose music shall ennoble all my life?”

So Margaret with pale lips and fixèd eyes
Stood, silent, face to face with destiny.
The blind resolve, discarded and remade
To give the fateful answer and have done
Struggled a moment at her heart, and then
She could not say the words; her lips refused
To utter what she willed; but other words,
Reckless and wild, surged up upon her lips,
And broke in utterance, she knew not how:
“I cannot be your wife; you do not know,
You could not know, you could not understand
The longing of my heart; my inmost soul
Forbids! I cannot, dare not!” Then she turned,
Smitten with wild compassion, and bent down,
And siezed his hands, and pressed them to her lips,
And kissed them: “Do not grieve!” she cried, “at all;
Indeed I am not fit to be your wife.
You do not know me; no, for all these years
You do not know me! She whom you should wed
Should be a leal and trusty woman, not
Like me, faithless!” and with a wringing look
Out of great eyes, woe widened, charged with tears,
She dashed into the house, and left him there,
Standing perplexed and dazed. A sudden voice,
Half-friendly and half-mocking at his side,
Woke him out of his dreams. ’Twas Hawthorne’s tone—
The old man watching him with curious eyes:
“You are too late,” he said, “A month ago
Your case was sure. You have heard tell, I guess,
Of Richard Stahlberg our next neighbour’s son,
The college prodigy. He has returned,
And brought a sort of magic in his tongue.
A single day sufficed him to undo
Your work with Margaret. He has turned her head
Bewitched her utterly!” The old man stopped,
Marking the other’s stricken face, and changed
His note, and strove to comfort him; and then
The loosening current of Vantassel’s grief
Turned to a wrathful hunger to be told
All that the old man knew of Richard’s life,
The make and inward fashion of the man
He deemed his enemy. When night had fallen,
And he could hope no more for sight or sound
Of Margaret, Vantassel took once more
His bitter way across the moonlit fields.

Now in the active spirit of the man,
Loving the concrete, too thick-nerved and bluff
For vague emotion, wrath and the desire
Of vengeance almost swallowed up his grief.
The form of Richard towered before his soul,
A thing that he could strike at. As he strode,
Scarce marking how he chose or kept the paths,
His heart brewed up out of the strong fierce blood
A tempest black with thunder and with fire.
Beyond the fields there lay a scattered wood,
And in the midst thereof a quiet glade,
Tenanted only by the silver moon
And the sharp shadows. As Vantassel came
Into the open space, a giant form
Loomed out before him from the dusky trunks,
Brow-bent, bare-headed, and the brooding face,
As of one startled by his sweeping step,
Turned into the full moonlight, and grew clear.
Vantassel knew the face and knew the form,
And his hands clenched, and with a rushing stride
He fronted Richard. In a terrible voice,
Broken and hoarse and reasonless with rage:
“You are the man who robbed me of my love!
Who came at the last hour, when all was well,
And ruined both our lives! You are a thief!
A mean and treacherous thief! There is a law
To punish them that rob us of our goods,
But how shall we be safe from such as you,
Traitors who creep about us in the dark,
And tempt and steal away our happiness!”

Richard had scarcely time to ward the blow
So sudden was the other’s wild attack,
But he gave ground, and in a gentle voice
Cried out: “There is no need to strike, my friend;
Put by your anger for a moment now,
And let me speak, and I will tell you all.
You do not know the matter, as it is.
Be patient!” But the other neither heard,
Nor heeded, but bore in on Richard’s guard
With reckless fury. Then in Richard’s soul
The old Berserker passion of his youth
Rose for a trice, and putting forth at last
The sudden volume of his mountainous strength
He siezed the lawyer’s body round the midst,
Lifted him high in air, and thrust him down,
And pinned him like a feather to the earth:
“See! You shall hear me, whether you will or no!”
He said, “Will you be governed now?” He drew
His hands away, and, humbled and half-stunned,
Vantassel, sitting with averted eyes,
Turned sullenly to listen. Richard stood,
Looming above him like a tower, and told
The story of his labour and his love,
Dashing it forth in short and trenchant phrase,
And as he spoke, the lawyer locked his arms
About his legs, and thrust his quivering head
Between his knees; nor did he break at all
The silence, when the eloquent tongue had ceased.
But Richard in a moment, not yet salved,
Forth-leaning with a deep and passionate cry,
Continued: “Now you know how all my life
Is linked with Margaret’s, how I draw from her
All that I am, and all I hope to be!
Do you think then that I can give her up?
There is a bond between us, sacred and inherent;
She too has felt it now and turns to me
With the one love that cannot be gainsaid,
For the first time discovering her own heart.
If you should break this bond you would not win
The happiness you seek. Your life and hers
Would find the fate of all unmated things,
The incurable curse of blight and emptiness.”

And both were silent, in their stormy hearts
Revolving things beyond the reach of words,
Till in the end the lawyer slowly rose,

And, “You have conquered both by force of hands,”
He murmured, “and by force of soul. I yield.
Do as you will. I read her heart to-day,
And know that I am hopeless. May the fates
Be good to her, for I have been her friend.
I will release her from all debt to me
By word or letter.” Then he turned away,
And Richard would have touched him with his hand
Or said some gentle word, but he was gone,
Striding with heavy steps and bended head.

The murmurous stillness of the summer night
Was gathering round the silent orchard trees;
The shadowy grass was thick and cool with dew;
And Margaret, hungering much to be alone,
Along the darkening pathway toward the fields
Had come, and reached the bars, and lingered there.
The mountain in the silvery radiance
Of the full moon stood large and sombre-flanked
Above her with its glistening crest of leaves.
Her heart, like weary water after storm,
Lay spent with care and passion. It seemed now
There was no more for her to think or do,
But just to follow with obedient feet
The beck of destiny. Upon her bed
In the dark farm-house yonder she had left
The final sad memorial of her strife,
A letter, soiled and blotted with her tears.

She laid her arms upon the silent rails,
And stood, gazing into the darkness, full
Only of love and limitless regret.

For a long while, until her feet were tired,
Thus wrapt and unregardful, she remained,
In dreamless quietude; and then at last
Without surprise, as if it were the next
And final stroke or some impersonal fate,
The form of Richard, coming with slow steps
Out of the mountain shadows near at hand,
As half irresolute, siezed and absorbed
Her sense, and gathered in one noiseless stream
All the dim drifts and currents of her soul.
Richard drew near, with blanched and fixèd eyes.
He saw the form, the beautiful pale face,
Set like a shadowy statue in the dusk
Of spiritual enchantment. He stood still,
Half-fearing: “Am I right to come?” he cried;
“I dreamed that I might come to you to-night,
That something might be changed and I might dare”:
And Margaret did not answer, but her eyes,
The signals of the mute and shining soul,
Gave themselves utterly to his,—one look
Of silent full surrenderment. Her lips,
Melting into a strange and speechless smile,
Became a flower, whose poignant loveliness
An age of dearth and hunger had made pale,
Lingering the sweeter for its hidden root
Of shame and agony. Without a word
They took each other’s hands, and turned and passed
Up the cool path between the orchard trees,
Wrapt in such thoughts as only they can know,
Whose hearts through tears and effort have attained
The portals of the perfect fields of life,
And thence, half-dazzled by the glow, perceive
The endless road before them, clear and free.