What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
After Weir had been carried up-stairs, and he had ascertained that she was again conscious, Dartmouth went to his own room, knowing he could not see her again that night. He did not go to bed; there was no possibility of sleep for hours, and he preferred the slight distraction of pacing up and down the room. After a time he paused in front of the fireplace, and mechanically straightened one of the andirons with his foot. What had affected Weir so strangely? Had the whole thing burst suddenly upon her? He had hardly told her enough for that; but what else could it be? Poor child! And poor Sir Iltyd! How should he explain to him? What story could he concoct to satisfy him? It would be absurd to attempt the truth; no human being but himself and Weir could comprehend it; Sir Iltyd would only think them both mad. He unconsciously drew in a long breath, expelling the air again with some violence, like a man whose chest is oppressed. And how his head ached! If he could only get a few hours sleep without that cursed laudanum. Hark! what was that? A storm was coming up. It almost shook the castle, solid and of stone as it was. But he was glad. A storm was more in tune with his mood than calm. He would go out into the gallery and watch it.
He left his room and went to the gallery to which he had gone to watch a storm a little over a week ago. A week? It seemed so remote that for the moment he could not recall the events of that last visit; his head ached so that everything but physical suffering was temporarily insignificant. There was no moon to-night. The sky was covered with black, scurrying clouds, and he could only hear the angry, boiling waters, not see them. He felt suffocated. He had felt so all the evening. Besides the pain in his head there was a pressure on his brain; he must have air; and he pulled open one of the windows and stood within it. The wind beat about his head, the sea-gulls screamed in his ears, and the roar of the sea was deafening; but it exhilarated him and eased his head for the moment. What a poem it would make, that black, storm-swept sky, those mighty, thundering waters, that granite, wind-torn coast! How he could have immortalized it once! And he had it in him to immortalize it now, only that mechanical defect in his brain, no--that cruel iron hand, would not let him tell the world that he was greater than any to whom its people bent their knees. Ah, there it was at last! It had reawakened, and it was battling and struggling for speech as before. Perhaps this time it would succeed! It was strong enough to conquer in the end, and why should not the end have come? Surely the fire in his brain must have melted that iron hand. Surely, far away, they were singing again. Where were they? Within his brain?--or battling with the storm to reach him? What were those wraith-like things--those tiny forms dancing weirdly on the roaring waters? Ah, he knew. They were the elfins of his brain that had tormented him with their music and fled at his approach. They had flown from their little cells, and were holding court on the storm-waves like fairies on the green. It was like them to love the danger and the tumult and the night. It was like them to shout and bound with the intoxication of the hour, to scream with the gale, and to kiss with frantic rapture the waves that threatened them. Each was a Thought mightier than any known to living man, and in the bosom of maddened nature it had found its element. And they had not deserted him--they had fled but for the hour--they had turned suddenly and were holding out their arms to him. Ah! he would meet them half-way--
A pair of arms, strong with terror, were suddenly thrown about him, and he was dragged to the other side of the gallery.
"Harold!" cried Weir; "what is the matter with you? Are you mad?"
"I believe I am," he cried. "Come to the light. I have something to tell you."
He caught her by the wrists and pulled her down the gallery until they were under the lantern which burned in one of the windows on nights like this as a warning to mariners. She gave a faint scream of terror, and struggled to release herself.
"You look so strange," she cried. "Let me go."
"Not any more strange than you do," he said, rapidly. "You, too, have changed since that night in here, when the truth was told to both of us. You did not understand then, nor did I; but I know all now, and I will tell you."
And then, in a torrent of almost unintelligible words, he poured forth the tale of his discovery: what had come to him in the study at Crumford Hall, the locket he had found, the letters he had read, the episode of his past he had lived over, the poem which had swept him up among the gods in its reading--all the sequence of facts whose constant reiteration during every unguarded moment had mechanically forced themselves into lasting coherence. She listened with head bent forward, and eyes through which terror, horror, despair, chased each other, then returned and fought together. "It is all true," he cried, in conclusion. "It is all true. Why don't you speak? Cannot you understand?"
She wrenched her hands from his grasp and flung her arms above her head. "Yes," she cried, "I understand. I am a woman for whose sin Time has no mercy; you are a madman, and I am alone!"
"What are you saying?" he demanded, thickly. "You are alone? There is no hope, then?"
"No, there is no hope," she said, "nor has the worst--" She sprang suddenly forward and caught him about the neck. "Oh, Harold!" she cried, "you are not mad. It cannot be! I cannot think of the sin, or care; I only know that I love you! love you! love you! and that if we can be together always the past can go; even--Oh, Harold, speak to me; don't look at me in that way!"
But his arms hung inertly at his sides, and he looked down into her agonized face with a smile. "No hope!" he whispered.
The poor girl dropped in a heap to the floor, as if the life had suddenly gone out of her. Harold gave a little laugh. "No hope!" he said.
She sprang to her feet and flew down the gallery. But he stood where she had left him. She reached the open window, then turned and for a moment faced him again. "No," she cried, "no hope, and no rest or peace;" and then the storm and the night closed over her.
He moved to the window after a moment, and leaning out, called her name. There was no answer but the shrieking of the storm. The black waters had greedily embraced her, and in their depths she would find rest at last. How would she look down there, in some quiet cave, with the sea-weed floating over her white gown, and the pearls in her beautiful hair? How exquisite a thing she would be! The very monsters of the deep would hold their breath as they passed, and leave her unmolested. And the eye of mortal man would never gaze upon her again. There was divinest ecstacy in the thought! Ah! how lovely she was! What a face--what a form!
He staggered back from the window and gave a loud laugh. At last it had been vanquished and broken--that iron hand. He had heard it snap that moment within his brain. And it was pouring upward, that river of song. The elfins had come back, and were quiring like the immortals. She would hear them down there, in her cold, nameless grave, with the ceaseless requiem of the waters above her, and smile and rejoice that death had come to her to give him speech. His brain was the very cathedral of heaven, and there was music in every part of it. The glad shout was ringing throughout nave and transept like the glorious greeting of Christmas morning. "Her face! Her form!" No, no; not that again. They were no part of the burning flood of song which was writhing and surging in his brain. They were not the words which would tell the world--Ah! what was it? "Her face! Her form!--"
He groped his way to and fro like a blind man seeking some object to guide him. "Her eyes! Her hair!" No, no. Oh, what was this? Why was he falling--falling?--What was that terror-stricken cry? that wild, white face of an old man above him? Where had this water come from that was boiling and thundering in his ears? What was that tossed aloft by the wave beyond? If he could but reach her!--She had gone! Cruel Night had caught her in its black arms and was laughing at his efforts to reach her. That mocking, hideous laughter! how it shrieked above the storm, its dissonance as eternal as his fate! There she was again!--Sioned! No, she had gone, and he was beating with impotent fury those devouring--But who was this bending over him?--the Night Queen, with the stars in her hair? And what was she pressing into his arms? At last! Sioned! Sioned!