On the homeward walk, that evening, Roderick preserved a silence which Rowland allowed to make him uneasy. Early on the morrow Roderick, saying nothing of his intentions, started off on a walk; Rowland saw him striding with light steps along the rugged path to Engelberg. He was absent all day and he gave no account of himself on his return. He said he was deadly tired, and he went to bed early. When he had left the room Miss Garland drew near to Rowland.
“I wish to ask you a question,” she said. “What happened to Roderick yesterday at Engelberg?”
“You have discovered that something happened?” Rowland answered.
“I am sure of it. Was it something painful?”
“I don’t know how, at the present moment, he judges it. He met the Princess Casamassima.”
“Thank you!” said Miss Garland, simply, and turned away.
The conversation had been brief, but, like many small things, it furnished Rowland with food for reflection. When one is looking for symptoms one easily finds them. This was the first time Mary Garland had asked Rowland a question which it was in Roderick’s power to answer, the first time she had frankly betrayed Roderick’s reticence. Rowland ventured to think it marked an era.
The next morning was sultry, and the air, usually so fresh at those altitudes, was oppressively heavy. Rowland lounged on the grass a while, near Singleton, who was at work under his white umbrella, within view of the house; and then in quest of coolness he wandered away to the rocky ridge whence you looked across at the Jungfrau. To-day, however, the white summits were invisible; their heads were muffled in sullen clouds and the valleys beneath them curtained in dun-colored mist. Rowland had a book in his pocket, and he took it out and opened it. But his page remained unturned; his own thoughts were more importunate. His interview with Christina Light had made a great impression upon him, and he was haunted with the memory of her almost blameless bitterness, and of all that was tragic and fatal in her latest transformation. These things were immensely appealing, and Rowland thought with infinite impatience of Roderick’s having again encountered them. It required little imagination to apprehend that the young sculptor’s condition had also appealed to Christina. His consummate indifference, his supreme defiance, would make him a magnificent trophy, and Christina had announced with sufficient distinctness that she had said good-by to scruples. It was her fancy at present to treat the world as a garden of pleasure, and if, hitherto, she had played with Roderick’s passion on its stem, there was little doubt that now she would pluck it with an unfaltering hand and drain it of its acrid sweetness. And why the deuce need Roderick have gone marching back to destruction? Rowland’s meditations, even when they began in rancor, often brought him peace; but on this occasion they ushered in a quite peculiar quality of unrest. He felt conscious of a sudden collapse in his moral energy; a current that had been flowing for two years with liquid strength seemed at last to pause and evaporate. Rowland looked away at the stagnant vapors on the mountains; their dreariness seemed a symbol of the dreariness which his own generosity had bequeathed him. At last he had arrived at the uttermost limit of the deference a sane man might pay to other people’s folly; nay, rather, he had transgressed it; he had been befooled on a gigantic scale. He turned to his book and tried to woo back patience, but it gave him cold comfort and he tossed it angrily away. He pulled his hat over his eyes, and tried to wonder, dispassionately, whether atmospheric conditions had not something to do with his ill-humor. He remained for some time in this attitude, but was finally aroused from it by a singular sense that, although he had heard nothing, some one had approached him. He looked up and saw Roderick standing before him on the turf. His mood made the spectacle unwelcome, and for a moment he felt like uttering an uncivil speech. Roderick stood looking at him with an expression of countenance which had of late become rare. There was an unfamiliar spark in his eye and a certain imperious alertness in his carriage. Confirmed habit, with Rowland, came speedily to the front. “What is it now?” he asked himself, and invited Roderick to sit down. Roderick had evidently something particular to say, and if he remained silent for a time it was not because he was ashamed of it.
“I would like you to do me a favor,” he said at last. “Lend me some money.”
“How much do you wish?” Rowland asked.
“Say a thousand francs.”
Rowland hesitated a moment. “I don’t wish to be indiscreet, but may I ask what you propose to do with a thousand francs?”
“To go to Interlaken.”
“And why are you going to Interlaken?”
Roderick replied without a shadow of wavering, “Because that woman is to be there.”
Rowland burst out laughing, but Roderick remained serenely grave. “You have forgiven her, then?” said Rowland.
“Not a bit of it!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. I only know that she is incomparably beautiful, and that she has waked me up amazingly. Besides, she asked me to come.”
“She asked you?”
“Yesterday, in so many words.”
“Ah, the jade!”
“Exactly. I am willing to take her for that.”
“Why in the name of common sense did you go back to her?”
“Why did I find her standing there like a goddess who had just stepped out of her cloud? Why did I look at her? Before I knew where I was, the harm was done.”
Rowland, who had been sitting erect, threw himself back on the grass and lay for some time staring up at the sky. At last, raising himself, “Are you perfectly serious?” he asked.
“Your idea is to remain at Interlaken some time?”
“Indefinitely!” said Roderick; and it seemed to his companion that the tone in which he said this made it immensely well worth hearing.
“And your mother and cousin, meanwhile, are to remain here? It will soon be getting very cold, you know.”
“It does n’t seem much like it today.”
“Very true; but today is a day by itself.”
“There is nothing to prevent their going back to Lucerne. I depend upon your taking charge of them.”
At this Rowland reclined upon the grass again; and again, after reflection, he faced his friend. “How would you express,” he asked, “the character of the profit that you expect to derive from your excursion?”
“I see no need of expressing it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! The case is simply this. I desire immensely to be near Christina Light, and it is such a huge refreshment to find myself again desiring something, that I propose to drift with the current. As I say, she has waked me up, and it is possible something may come of it. She makes me feel as if I were alive again. This,” and he glanced down at the inn, “I call death!”
“That I am very grateful to hear. You really feel as if you might do something?”
“Don’t ask too much. I only know that she makes my heart beat, makes me see visions.”
“You feel encouraged?”
“I feel excited.”
“You are really looking better.”
“I am glad to hear it. Now that I have answered your questions, please to give me the money.”
Rowland shook his head. “For that purpose, I can’t!”
“It’s impossible. Your plan is rank folly. I can’t help you in it.”
Roderick flushed a little, and his eye expanded. “I will borrow what money I can, then, from Mary!” This was not viciously said; it had simply the ring of passionate resolution.
Instantly it brought Rowland to terms. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and tossed it upon the grass. “The little brass one opens my dressing-case,” he said. “You will find money in it.”
Roderick let the keys lie; something seemed to have struck him; he looked askance at his friend. “You are awfully gallant!”
“You certainly are not. Your proposal is an outrage.”
“Very likely. It’s a proof the more of my desire.”
“If you have so much steam on, then, use it for something else. You say you are awake again. I am delighted; only be so in the best sense. Is n’t it very plain? If you have the energy to desire, you have also the energy to reason and to judge. If you can care to go, you can also care to stay, and staying being the more profitable course, the inspiration, on that side, for a man who has his self-confidence to win back again, should be greater.”
Roderick, plainly, did not relish this simple logic, and his eye grew angry as he listened to its echo. “Oh, the devil!” he cried.
Rowland went on. “Do you believe that hanging about Christina Light will do you any good? Do you believe it won’t? In either case you should keep away from her. If it won’t, it’s your duty; and if it will, you can get on without it.”
“Do me good?” cried Roderick. “What do I want of ‘good’— what should I do with ‘good’? I want what she gives me, call it by what name you will. I want to ask no questions, but to take what comes and let it fill the impossible hours! But I did n’t come to discuss the matter.”
“I have not the least desire to discuss it,” said Rowland. “I simply protest.”
Roderick meditated a moment. “I have never yet thought twice of accepting a favor of you,” he said at last; “but this one sticks in my throat.”
“It is not a favor; I lend you the money only under compulsion.”
“Well, then, I will take it only under compulsion!” Roderick exclaimed. And he sprang up abruptly and marched away.
His words were ambiguous; Rowland lay on the grass, wondering what they meant. Half an hour had not elapsed before Roderick reappeared, heated with rapid walking, and wiping his forehead. He flung himself down and looked at his friend with an eye which expressed something purer than bravado and yet baser than conviction.
“I have done my best!” he said. “My mother is out of money; she is expecting next week some circular notes from London. She had only ten francs in her pocket. Mary Garland gave me every sou she possessed in the world. It makes exactly thirty-four francs. That’s not enough.”
“You asked Miss Garland?” cried Rowland.
“I asked her.”
“And told her your purpose?”
“I named no names. But she knew!”
“What did she say?”
“Not a syllable. She simply emptied her purse.”
Rowland turned over and buried his face in his arms. He felt a movement of irrepressible elation, and he barely stifled a cry of joy. Now, surely, Roderick had shattered the last link in the chain that bound Mary to him, and after this she would be free! . . . When he turned about again, Roderick was still sitting there, and he had not touched the keys which lay on the grass.
“I don’t know what is the matter with me,” said Roderick, “but I have an insurmountable aversion to taking your money.”
“The matter, I suppose, is that you have a grain of wisdom left.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s a kind of brute instinct. I find it extremely provoking!” He sat there for some time with his head in his hands and his eyes on the ground. His lips were compressed, and he was evidently, in fact, in a state of profound irritation. “You have succeeded in making this thing excessively unpleasant!” he exclaimed.
“I am sorry,” said Rowland, “but I can’t see it in any other way.”
“That I believe, and I resent the range of your vision pretending to be the limit of my action. You can’t feel for me nor judge for me, and there are certain things you know nothing about. I have suffered, sir!” Roderick went on with increasing emphasis. “I have suffered damnable torments. Have I been such a placid, contented, comfortable man this last six months, that when I find a chance to forget my misery, I should take such pains not to profit by it? You ask too much, for a man who himself has no occasion to play the hero. I don’t say that invidiously; it’s your disposition, and you can’t help it. But decidedly, there are certain things you know nothing about.”
Rowland listened to this outbreak with open eyes, and Roderick, if he had been less intent upon his own eloquence, would probably have perceived that he turned pale. “These things — what are they?” Rowland asked.
“They are women, principally, and what relates to women. Women for you, by what I can make out, mean nothing. You have no imagination — no sensibility!”
“That’s a serious charge,” said Rowland, gravely.
“I don’t make it without proof!”
“And what is your proof?”
Roderick hesitated a moment. “The way you treated Christina Light. I call that grossly obtuse.”
“Obtuse?” Rowland repeated, frowning.
“Thick-skinned, beneath your good fortune.”
“My good fortune?”
“There it is — it’s all news to you! You had pleased her. I don’t say she was dying of love for you, but she took a fancy to you.”
“We will let this pass!” said Rowland, after a silence.
“Oh, I don’t insist. I have only her own word for it.”
“She told you this?”
“You noticed, at least, I suppose, that she was not afraid to speak. I never repeated it, not because I was jealous, but because I was curious to see how long your ignorance would last if left to itself.”
“I frankly confess it would have lasted forever. And yet I don’t consider that my insensibility is proved.”
“Oh, don’t say that,” cried Roderick, “or I shall begin to suspect — what I must do you the justice to say that I never have suspected — that you are a trifle conceited. Upon my word, when I think of all this, your protest, as you call it, against my following Christina Light seems to me thoroughly offensive. There is something monstrous in a man’s pretending to lay down the law to a sort of emotion with which he is quite unacquainted — in his asking a fellow to give up a lovely woman for conscience’ sake, when he has never had the impulse to strike a blow for one for passion’s!”
“Oh, oh!” cried Rowland.
“All that’s very easy to say,” Roderick went on; “but you must remember that there are such things as nerves, and senses, and imagination, and a restless demon within that may sleep sometimes for a day, or for six months, but that sooner or later wakes up and thumps at your ribs till you listen to him! If you can’t understand it, take it on trust, and let a poor imaginative devil live his life as he can!”
Roderick’s words seemed at first to Rowland like something heard in a dream; it was impossible they had been actually spoken — so supreme an expression were they of the insolence of egotism. Reality was never so consistent as that! But Roderick sat there balancing his beautiful head, and the echoes of his strident accent still lingered along the half-muffled mountain-side. Rowland suddenly felt that the cup of his chagrin was full to overflowing, and his long-gathered bitterness surged into the simple, wholesome passion of anger for wasted kindness. But he spoke without violence, and Roderick was probably at first far from measuring the force that lay beneath his words.
“You are incredibly ungrateful,” he said. “You are talking arrogant nonsense. What do you know about my sensibilities and my imagination? How do you know whether I have loved or suffered? If I have held my tongue and not troubled you with my complaints, you find it the most natural thing in the world to put an ignoble construction on my silence. I loved quite as well as you; indeed, I think I may say rather better. I have been constant. I have been willing to give more than I received. I have not forsaken one mistress because I thought another more beautiful, nor given up the other and believed all manner of evil about her because I had not my way with her. I have been a good friend to Christina Light, and it seems to me my friendship does her quite as much honor as your love!”
“Your love — your suffering — your silence — your friendship!” cried Roderick. “I declare I don’t understand!”
“I dare say not. You are not used to understanding such things — you are not used to hearing me talk of my feelings. You are altogether too much taken up with your own. Be as much so as you please; I have always respected your right. Only when I have kept myself in durance on purpose to leave you an open field, don’t, by way of thanking me, come and call me an idiot.”
“Oh, you claim then that you have made sacrifices?”
“Several! You have never suspected it?”
“If I had, do you suppose I would have allowed it?” cried Roderick.
“They were the sacrifices of friendship and they were easily made; only I don’t enjoy having them thrown back in my teeth.”
This was, under the circumstances, a sufficiently generous speech; but Roderick was not in the humor to take it generously. “Come, be more definite,” he said. “Let me know where it is the shoe has pinched.”
Rowland frowned; if Roderick would not take generosity, he should have full justice. “It’s a perpetual sacrifice,” he said, “to live with a perfect egotist.”
“I am an egotist?” cried Roderick.
“Did it never occur to you?”
“An egotist to whom you have made perpetual sacrifices?” He repeated the words in a singular tone; a tone that denoted neither exactly indignation nor incredulity, but (strange as it may seem) a sudden violent curiosity for news about himself.
“You are selfish,” said Rowland; “you think only of yourself and believe only in yourself. You regard other people only as they play into your own hands. You have always been very frank about it, and the thing seemed so mixed up with the temper of your genius and the very structure of your mind, that often one was willing to take the evil with the good and to be thankful that, considering your great talent, you were no worse. But if one believed in you, as I have done, one paid a tax upon it.”
Roderick leaned his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands together, and crossed them, shadewise, over his eyes. In this attitude, for a moment, he sat looking coldly at his friend. “So I have made you very uncomfortable?” he went on.
“I have been eager, grasping, obstinate, vain, ungrateful, indifferent, cruel?”
“I have accused you, mentally, of all these things, with the exception of vanity.”
“You have often hated me?”
“Never. I should have parted company with you before coming to that.”
“But you have wanted to part company, to bid me go my way and be hanged!”
“Repeatedly. Then I have had patience and forgiven you.”
“Forgiven me, eh? Suffering all the while?”
“Yes, you may call it suffering.”
“Why did you never tell me all this before?”
“Because my affection was always stronger than my resentment; because I preferred to err on the side of kindness; because I had, myself, in a measure, launched you in the world and thrown you into temptations; and because nothing short of your unwarrantable aggression just now could have made me say these painful things.”
Roderick picked up a blade of long grass and began to bite it; Rowland was puzzled by his expression and manner. They seemed strangely cynical; there was something revolting in his deepening calmness. “I must have been hideous,” Roderick presently resumed.
“I am not talking for your entertainment,” said Rowland.
“Of course not. For my edification!” As Roderick said these words there was not a ray of warmth in his brilliant eye.
“I have spoken for my own relief,” Rowland went on, “and so that you need never again go so utterly astray as you have done this morning.”
“It has been a terrible mistake, then?” What his tone expressed was not willful mockery, but a kind of persistent irresponsibility which Rowland found equally exasperating. He answered nothing.
“And all this time,” Roderick continued, “you have been in love? Tell me the woman.”
Rowland felt an immense desire to give him a visible, palpable pang. “Her name is Mary Garland,” he said.
Apparently he succeeded. The surprise was great; Roderick colored as he had never done. “Mary Garland? Heaven forgive us!”
Rowland observed the “us;” Roderick threw himself back on the turf. The latter lay for some time staring at the sky. At last he sprang to his feet, and Rowland rose also, rejoicing keenly, it must be confessed, in his companion’s confusion.
“For how long has this been?” Roderick demanded.
“Since I first knew her.”
“Two years! And you have never told her?”
“You have told no one?”
“You are the first person.”
“Why have you been silent?”
“Because of your engagement.”
“But you have done your best to keep that up.”
“That’s another matter!”
“It’s very strange!” said Roderick, presently. “It’s like something in a novel.”
“We need n’t expatiate on it,” said Rowland. “All I wished to do was to rebut your charge that I am an abnormal being.”
But still Roderick pondered. “All these months, while I was going on! I wish you had mentioned it.”
“I acted as was necessary, and that’s the end of it.”
“You have a very high opinion of her?”
“I remember now your occasionally expressing it and my being struck with it. But I never dreamed you were in love with her. It’s a pity she does n’t care for you!”
Rowland had made his point and he had no wish to prolong the conversation; but he had a desire to hear more of this, and he remained silent.
“You hope, I suppose, that some day she may?”
“I should n’t have offered to say so; but since you ask me, I do.”
“I don’t believe it. She idolizes me, and if she never were to see me again she would idolize my memory.”
This might be profound insight, and it might be profound fatuity. Rowland turned away; he could not trust himself to speak.
“My indifference, my neglect of her, must have seemed to you horrible. Altogether, I must have appeared simply hideous.”
“Do you really care,” Rowland asked, “what you appeared?”
“Certainly. I have been damnably stupid. Is n’t an artist supposed to be a man of perceptions? I am hugely disgusted.”
“Well, you understand now, and we can start afresh.”
“And yet,” said Roderick, “though you have suffered, in a degree, I don’t believe you have suffered so much as some other men would have done.”
“Very likely not. In such matters quantitative analysis is difficult.”
Roderick picked up his stick and stood looking at the ground. “Nevertheless, I must have seemed hideous,” he repeated —“hideous.” He turned away, scowling, and Rowland offered no contradiction.
They were both silent for some time, and at last Roderick gave a heavy sigh and began to walk away. “Where are you going?” Rowland then asked.
“Oh, I don’t care! To walk; you have given me something to think of.” This seemed a salutary impulse, and yet Rowland felt a nameless perplexity. “To have been so stupid damns me more than anything!” Roderick went on. “Certainly, I can shut up shop now.”
Rowland felt in no smiling humor, and yet, in spite of himself, he could almost have smiled at the very consistency of the fellow. It was egotism still: aesthetic disgust at the graceless contour of his conduct, but never a hint of simple sorrow for the pain he had given. Rowland let him go, and for some moments stood watching him. Suddenly Mallet became conscious of a singular and most illogical impulse — a desire to stop him, to have another word with him — not to lose sight of him. He called him and Roderick turned. “I should like to go with you,” said Rowland.
“I am fit only to be alone. I am damned!”
“You had better not think of it at all,” Rowland cried, “than think in that way.”
“There is only one way. I have been hideous!” And he broke off and marched away with his long, elastic step, swinging his stick. Rowland watched him and at the end of a moment called to him. Roderick stopped and looked at him in silence, and then abruptly turned, and disappeared below the crest of a hill.
Rowland passed the remainder of the day uncomfortably. He was half irritated, half depressed; he had an insufferable feeling of having been placed in the wrong, in spite of his excellent cause. Roderick did not come home to dinner; but of this, with his passion for brooding away the hours on far-off mountain sides, he had almost made a habit. Mrs. Hudson appeared at the noonday repast with a face which showed that Roderick’s demand for money had unsealed the fountains of her distress. Little Singleton consumed an enormous and well-earned dinner. Miss Garland, Rowland observed, had not contributed her scanty assistance to her kinsman’s pursuit of the Princess Casamassima without an effort. The effort was visible in her pale face and her silence; she looked so ill that when they left the table Rowland felt almost bound to remark upon it. They had come out upon the grass in front of the inn.
“I have a headache,” she said. And then suddenly, looking about at the menacing sky and motionless air, “It’s this horrible day!”
Rowland that afternoon tried to write a letter to his cousin Cecilia, but his head and his heart were alike heavy, and he traced upon the paper but a single line. “I believe there is such a thing as being too reasonable. But when once the habit is formed, what is one to do?” He had occasion to use his keys and he felt for them in his pocket; they were missing, and he remembered that he had left them lying on the hill-top where he had had his talk with Roderick. He went forth in search of them and found them where he had thrown them. He flung himself down in the same place again; he felt indisposed to walk. He was conscious that his mood had vastly changed since the morning; his extraordinary, acute sense of his rights had been replaced by the familiar, chronic sense of his duties. Only, his duties now seemed impracticable; he turned over and buried his face in his arms. He lay so a long time, thinking of many things; the sum of them all was that Roderick had beaten him. At last he was startled by an extraordinary sound; it took him a moment to perceive that it was a portentous growl of thunder. He roused himself and saw that the whole face of the sky had altered. The clouds that had hung motionless all day were moving from their stations, and getting into position, as it were, for a battle. The wind was rising; the sallow vapors were turning dark and consolidating their masses. It was a striking spectacle, but Rowland judged best to observe it briefly, as a storm was evidently imminent. He took his way down to the inn and found Singleton still at his post, profiting by the last of the rapidly-failing light to finish his study, and yet at the same time taking rapid notes of the actual condition of the clouds.
“We are going to have a most interesting storm,” the little painter gleefully cried. “I should like awfully to do it.”
Rowland adjured him to pack up his tools and decamp, and repaired to the house. The air by this time had become portentously dark, and the thunder was incessant and tremendous; in the midst of it the lightning flashed and vanished, like the treble shrilling upon the bass. The innkeeper and his servants had crowded to the doorway, and were looking at the scene with faces which seemed a proof that it was unprecedented. As Rowland approached, the group divided, to let some one pass from within, and Mrs. Hudson came forth, as white as a corpse and trembling in every limb.
“My boy, my boy, where is my boy?” she cried. “Mr. Mallet, why are you here without him? Bring him to me!”
“Has no one seen Mr. Hudson?” Rowland asked of the others. “Has he not returned?”
Each one shook his head and looked grave, and Rowland attempted to reassure Mrs. Hudson by saying that of course he had taken refuge in a chalet.
“Go and find him, go and find him!” she cried, insanely. “Don’t stand there and talk, or I shall die!” It was now as dark as evening, and Rowland could just distinguish the figure of Singleton scampering homeward with his box and easel. “And where is Mary?” Mrs. Hudson went on; “what in mercy’s name has become of her? Mr. Mallet, why did you ever bring us here?”
There came a prodigious flash of lightning, and the limitless tumult about them turned clearer than midsummer noonday. The brightness lasted long enough to enable Rowland to see a woman’s figure on the top of an eminence near the house. It was Mary Garland, questioning the lurid darkness for Roderick. Rowland sprang out to interrupt her vigil, but in a moment he encountered her, retreating. He seized her hand and hurried her to the house, where, as soon as she stepped into the covered gallery, Mrs. Hudson fell upon her with frantic lamentations.
“Did you see nothing — nothing?” she cried. “Tell Mr. Mallet he must go and find him, with some men, some lights, some wrappings. Go, go, go, sir! In mercy, go!”
Rowland was extremely perturbed by the poor lady’s vociferous folly, for he deemed her anxiety superfluous. He had offered his suggestion with sincerity; nothing was more probable than that Roderick had found shelter in a herdsman’s cabin. These were numerous on the neighboring mountains, and the storm had given fair warning of its approach. Miss Garland stood there very pale, saying nothing, but looking at him. He expected that she would check her cousin’s importunity. “Could you find him?” she suddenly asked. “Would it be of use?”
The question seemed to him a flash intenser than the lightning that was raking the sky before them. It shattered his dream that he weighed in the scale! But before he could answer, the full fury of the storm was upon them; the rain descended in sounding torrents. Every one fell back into the house. There had been no time to light lamps, and in the little uncarpeted parlor, in the unnatural darkness, Rowland felt Mary’s hand upon his arm. For a moment it had an eloquent pressure; it seemed to retract her senseless challenge, and to say that she believed, for Roderick, what he believed. But nevertheless, thought Rowland, the cry had come, her heart had spoken; her first impulse had been to sacrifice him. He had been uncertain before; here, at least, was the comfort of certainty!
It must be confessed, however, that the certainty in question did little to enliven the gloom of that formidable evening. There was a noisy crowd about him in the room — noisy even with the accompaniment of the continual thunder-peals; lodgers and servants, chattering, shuffling, and bustling, and annoying him equally by making too light of the tempest and by vociferating their alarm. In the disorder, it was some time before a lamp was lighted, and the first thing he saw, as it was swung from the ceiling, was the white face of Mrs. Hudson, who was being carried out of the room in a swoon by two stout maid-servants, with Mary Garland forcing a passage. He rendered what help he could, but when they had laid the poor woman on her bed, Miss Garland motioned him away.
“I think you make her worse,” she said.
Rowland went to his own chamber. The partitions in Swiss mountain-inns are thin, and from time to time he heard Mrs. Hudson moaning, three rooms off. Considering its great fury, the storm took long to expend itself; it was upwards of three hours before the thunder ceased. But even then the rain continued to fall heavily, and the night, which had come on, was impenetrably black. This lasted till near midnight. Rowland thought of Mary Garland’s challenge in the porch, but he thought even more that, although the fetid interior of a high-nestling chalet may offer a convenient refuge from an Alpine tempest, there was no possible music in the universe so sweet as the sound of Roderick’s voice. At midnight, through his dripping window-pane, he saw a star, and he immediately went downstairs and out into the gallery. The rain had ceased, the cloud-masses were dissevered here and there, and several stars were visible. In a few minutes he heard a step behind him, and, turning, saw Miss Garland. He asked about Mrs. Hudson and learned that she was sleeping, exhausted by her fruitless lamentations. Miss Garland kept scanning the darkness, but she said nothing to cast doubt on Roderick’s having found a refuge. Rowland noticed it. “This also have I guaranteed!” he said to himself. There was something that Mary wished to learn, and a question presently revealed it.
“What made him start on a long walk so suddenly?” she asked. “I saw him at eleven o’clock, and then he meant to go to Engelberg, and sleep.”
“On his way to Interlaken?” Rowland said.
“Yes,” she answered, under cover of the darkness.
“We had some talk,” said Rowland, “and he seemed, for the day, to have given up Interlaken.”
“Did you dissuade him?”
“Not exactly. We discussed another question, which, for the time, superseded his plan.”
Miss Garland was silent. Then —“May I ask whether your discussion was violent?” she said.
“I am afraid it was agreeable to neither of us.”
“And Roderick left you in-in irritation?”
“I offered him my company on his walk. He declined it.”
Miss Garland paced slowly to the end of the gallery and then came back. “If he had gone to Engelberg,” she said, “he would have reached the hotel before the storm began.”
Rowland felt a sudden explosion of ferocity. “Oh, if you like,” he cried, “he can start for Interlaken as soon as he comes back!”
But she did not even notice his wrath. “Will he come back early?” she went on.
“We may suppose so.”
“He will know how anxious we are, and he will start with the first light!”
Rowland was on the point of declaring that Roderick’s readiness to throw himself into the feelings of others made this extremely probable; but he checked himself and said, simply, “I expect him at sunrise.”
Miss Garland bent her eyes once more upon the irresponsive darkness, and then, in silence, went into the house. Rowland, it must be averred, in spite of his resolution not to be nervous, found no sleep that night. When the early dawn began to tremble in the east, he came forth again into the open air. The storm had completely purged the atmosphere, and the day gave promise of cloudless splendor. Rowland watched the early sun-shafts slowly reaching higher, and remembered that if Roderick did not come back to breakfast, there were two things to be taken into account. One was the heaviness of the soil on the mountain-sides, saturated with the rain; this would make him walk slowly: the other was the fact that, speaking without irony, he was not remarkable for throwing himself into the sentiments of others. Breakfast, at the inn, was early, and by breakfast-time Roderick had not appeared. Then Rowland admitted that he was nervous. Neither Mrs. Hudson nor Miss Garland had left their apartment; Rowland had a mental vision of them sitting there praying and listening; he had no desire to see them more directly. There were a couple of men who hung about the inn as guides for the ascent of the Titlis; Rowland sent each of them forth in a different direction, to ask the news of Roderick at every chalet door within a morning’s walk. Then he called Sam Singleton, whose peregrinations had made him an excellent mountaineer, and whose zeal and sympathy were now unbounded, and the two started together on a voyage of research. By the time they had lost sight of the inn, Rowland was obliged to confess that, decidedly, Roderick had had time to come back.
He wandered about for several hours, but he found only the sunny stillness of the mountain-sides. Before long he parted company with Singleton, who, to his suggestion that separation would multiply their resources, assented with a silent, frightened look which reflected too vividly his own rapidly-dawning thought. The day was magnificent; the sun was everywhere; the storm had lashed the lower slopes into a deeper flush of autumnal color, and the snow-peaks reared themselves against the near horizon in glaring blocks and dazzling spires. Rowland made his way to several chalets, but most of them were empty. He thumped at their low, foul doors with a kind of nervous, savage anger; he challenged the stupid silence to tell him something about his friend. Some of these places had evidently not been open in months. The silence everywhere was horrible; it seemed to mock at his impatience and to be a conscious symbol of calamity. In the midst of it, at the door of one of the chalets, quite alone, sat a hideous cretin, who grinned at Rowland over his goitre when, hardly knowing what he did, he questioned him. The creature’s family was scattered on the mountain-sides; he could give Rowland no help to find them. Rowland climbed into many awkward places, and skirted, intently and peeringly, many an ugly chasm and steep-dropping ledge. But the sun, as I have said, was everywhere; it illumined the deep places over which, not knowing where to turn next, he halted and lingered, and showed him nothing but the stony Alpine void — nothing so human even as death. At noon he paused in his quest and sat down on a stone; the conviction was pressing upon him that the worst that was now possible was true. He suspended his search; he was afraid to go on. He sat there for an hour, sick to the depths of his soul. Without his knowing why, several things, chiefly trivial, that had happened during the last two years and that he had quite forgotten, became vividly present to his mind. He was aroused at last by the sound of a stone dislodged near by, which rattled down the mountain. In a moment, on a steep, rocky slope opposite to him, he beheld a figure cautiously descending — a figure which was not Roderick. It was Singleton, who had seen him and began to beckon to him.
“Come down — come down!” cried the painter, steadily making his own way down. Rowland saw that as he moved, and even as he selected his foothold and watched his steps, he was looking at something at the bottom of the cliff. This was a great rugged wall which had fallen backward from the perpendicular, and the descent, though difficult, was with care sufficiently practicable.
“What do you see?” cried Rowland.
Singleton stopped, looked across at him and seemed to hesitate; then, “Come down — come down!” he simply repeated.
Rowland’s course was also a steep descent, and he attacked it so precipitately that he afterwards marveled he had not broken his neck. It was a ten minutes’ headlong scramble. Half-way down he saw something that made him dizzy; he saw what Singleton had seen. In the gorge below them a vague white mass lay tumbled upon the stones. He let himself go, blindly, fiercely. Singleton had reached the rocky bottom of the ravine before him, and had bounded forward and fallen upon his knees. Rowland overtook him and his own legs collapsed. The thing that yesterday was his friend lay before him as the chance of the last breath had left it, and out of it Roderick’s face stared upward, open-eyed, at the sky.
He had fallen from a great height, but he was singularly little disfigured. The rain had spent its torrents upon him, and his clothes and hair were as wet as if the billows of the ocean had flung him upon the strand. An attempt to move him would show some hideous fracture, some horrible physical dishonor; but what Rowland saw on first looking at him was only a strangely serene expression of life. The eyes were dead, but in a short time, when Rowland had closed them, the whole face seemed to awake. The rain had washed away all blood; it was as if Violence, having done her work, had stolen away in shame. Roderick’s face might have shamed her; it looked admirably handsome.
“He was a beautiful man!” said Singleton.
They looked up through their horror at the cliff from which he had apparently fallen, and which lifted its blank and stony face above him, with no care now but to drink the sunshine on which his eyes were closed, and then Rowland had an immense outbreak of pity and anguish. At last they spoke of carrying him back to the inn. “There must be three or four men,” Rowland said, “and they must be brought here quickly. I have not the least idea where we are.”
“We are at about three hours’ walk from home,” said Singleton. “I will go for help; I can find my way.”
“Remember,” said Rowland, “whom you will have to face.”
“I remember,” the excellent fellow answered. “There was nothing I could ever do for him in life; I will do what I can now.”
He went off, and Rowland stayed there alone. He watched for seven long hours, and his vigil was forever memorable. The most rational of men was for an hour the most passionate. He reviled himself with transcendent bitterness, he accused himself of cruelty and injustice, he would have lain down there in Roderick’s place to unsay the words that had yesterday driven him forth on his lonely ramble. Roderick had been fond of saying that there are such things as necessary follies, and Rowland was now proving it. At last he grew almost used to the dumb exultation of the cliff above him. He saw that Roderick was a mass of hideous injury, and he tried to understand what had happened. Not that it helped him; before that confounding mortality one hypothesis after another faltered and swooned away. Roderick’s passionate walk had carried him farther and higher than he knew; he had outstayed, supposably, the first menace of the storm, and perhaps even found a defiant entertainment in watching it. Perhaps he had simply lost himself. The tempest had overtaken him, and when he tried to return, it was too late. He had attempted to descend the cliff in the darkness, he had made the inevitable slip, and whether he had fallen fifty feet or three hundred little mattered. The condition of his body indicated the shorter fall. Now that all was over, Rowland understood how exclusively, for two years, Roderick had filled his life. His occupation was gone.
Singleton came back with four men — one of them the landlord of the inn. They had formed a sort of rude bier of the frame of a chaise a porteurs, and by taking a very round-about course homeward were able to follow a tolerably level path and carry their burden with a certain decency. To Rowland it seemed as if the little procession would never reach the inn; but as they drew near it he would have given his right hand for a longer delay. The people of the inn came forward to meet them, in a little silent, solemn convoy. In the doorway, clinging together, appeared the two bereaved women. Mrs. Hudson tottered forward with outstretched hands and the expression of a blind person; but before she reached her son, Mary Garland had rushed past her, and, in the face of the staring, pitying, awe-stricken crowd, had flung herself, with the magnificent movement of one whose rights were supreme, and with a loud, tremendous cry, upon the senseless vestige of her love.
That cry still lives in Rowland’s ears. It interposes, persistently, against the reflection that when he sometimes — very rarely — sees her, she is unreservedly kind to him; against the memory that during the dreary journey back to America, made of course with his assistance, there was a great frankness in her gratitude, a great gratitude in her frankness. Miss Garland lives with Mrs. Hudson, at Northampton, where Rowland visits his cousin Cecilia more frequently than of old. When he calls upon Miss Garland he never sees Mrs. Hudson. Cecilia, who, having her shrewd impression that he comes to see Miss Garland as much as to see herself, does not feel obliged to seem unduly flattered, calls him, whenever he reappears, the most restless of mortals. But he always says to her in answer, “No, I assure you I am the most patient!”
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10