The Mount of Sorrow

by Harriet Prescott Spofford

Never did anything seem fresher and sweeter than the plateau on which we emerged in the early sunset, after defiling all day through the dark deep mountain-sides in the rain.

We had promised Rhoda to assault her winter fastness whenever she should summon us; and now, in obedience to her message, a gay party of us had left the railway, and had driven, sometimes in slushy snow and sometimes on bare ground, up the old mountain-road, laughing and singing and jangling our bells, till at length the great bare woods, lifting their line forever before us and above us, gave place to bald black mountain-sides, whose oppressive gloom and silence stifled everything but a longing to escape from between them, and from the possible dangers in crossing bridges, and fording streams swollen by the fortnight’s thaws and rains. Now and then the stillness resolved itself into the murmuring of bare sprays, the rustling of rain, the dancing of innumerable unfettered brooks glittering with motion, but without light, from the dusky depths; now and then a ghastly lustre shot from the ice still hanging like a glacier upon some upper steep, or a strange gleam from the sodden snow on their floors lightened the roofs of the leafless forests that overlapped the chasms, and trailed their twisted roots like shapes of living horror. What was there, I wondered, so darkly familiar in it all? in what nightmare had I dreamed it all before? Long ere the journey’s end our spirits became dead as last night’s wine; we shared the depression of all nature, and felt as if we had come out of chaos and the end of all things when the huge mountain gates closed behind us, and we dashed out on the plateau where the grass, from which the wintry wrapping had been washed, had not lost all its greenness, and in the sudden lifting of the rain-cloud a red sparkle of sunset lighted the windows, as if a hundred flambeaux had been kindled to greet us.

A huge fire burned in the fireplace of the drawing-room when we had mounted the stairs and crossed the great hall, where other fires were blazing and sending ruddy flames to skim among the cedar rafters; and all that part of the house sacred to Colonel Vorse, and opened now the first time in many winters, was thoroughly warm and cheerful with lights and flowers and rugs and easy-chairs and books. We might easily have fancied ourselves, that night, in those spacious rooms, when, toilets made and dinner over, we re-assembled around the solid glow of the chimney logs, a modern party in some old mediæval chamber, all the more for the spirit of the scene outside, where the storm was telling its rede again, rain changing to snow, and a cruel blast keening round the many gables and screaming down the chimneys. After all, Rhoda’s and Merivale’s plan of having us in the hills before late-lingering winter should be quite gone, and doing a little Sintram business with skates and wolves and hill visions, should have been carried out earlier. To them it was all but little less novel than it was to me, and Rhoda, who, although a year or two my junior, had been my intimate, so far as I ever had an intimate, would not rest till she had devised this party, without which she knew she could not have me, even persuading our good old Dr. Devens to leave his pulpit and people, and stamp the proceeding with his immaculate respectability. As it was, however, it looked as though we were simply to be shut in by a week of storm following the thaw. Well, there are compensations in all things: perhaps two people in whom I had some interest would know each other a trifle better before the week ended then.

The place was really the home of Rhoda and Merivale, or was now to become so. Colonel Vorse, their father, who had married so young that he felt but little older than they, and was quite their companion, was still the owner of the vast summer hostelry, although no longer its manager. After accumulating his fortune he had taken his children about the world, educating them and himself at the same time, with now an object lesson in Germany and now another in Peru, and finally returning to this place, which, so far as we could see, was absolute desolation, without a neighbor, but which to him was bristling with memories and associations and old friends across the intervale and over the mountain and round the spur. There was something weird to me, as I looked out at the flying whiteness of the moonlit storm, in those acquaintances of his among the hollows of these pallid hills; it seemed as though they must partake of the coldness and whiteness, and as if they were only dead people, when all was said. Perhaps Dr. Devens, who half the way up had been quoting,

“Pavilioned high, he sits
In darkness from excessive splendor born,”

had another phase of the same feeling. I heard him saying, as I passed him five minutes before, where he sat astride a chair in front of the long oriel casement: “There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen: the lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.” He is expecting a convulsion of nature, I remember thinking, as I went by and paused at another window myself. A convulsion of nature! I fancy that he found it.

“There is something eerie here,” I said, as I still gazed at the scene; for the dim gigantic shapes of the hills rose round us like sheeted ghosts, while the flying scud of the storm, filled with the white diffusion of unseen light, every now and then opened to let the glimpses out. “And see the witch-fires,” as the rosy reflections of our burning logs and lights danced on the whirling snow without. “Is there anything wanting to make us feel as if we had been caught here by some spell, and were to be held by some charm?”

“I wish I knew the charm,” said Colonel Vorse, by my side, and half under his breath. And then I felt a little angrier with myself for coming than I had felt before.

“I often hear you talking of your belief in certain telluric forces that must have most power among the mountains where they first had play, and where earth is not only beneath, but is above you and around you. Well, we are here in the stronghold of these telluric forces. I am their old friend and ally: let me see what they will do for me.”

It was true. And I half shivered with an indefinite fear that I might be compelled, in spite of all wish and prejudice, and birthright—I, the child of proud old colonial grandees of the South; he, the son of a mountain farmer, who had married a mate of his own degree, and had kept a mountain inn till fortune found him and death took her. My father at least was the child of those proud old colonials, and I had lived with his people and been reared on their traditions. Who my mother was I never knew; for my father had married her in some romantic fashion—a runaway match—and she had died at my birth, and he had shortly followed her. I had nothing that belonged to her but the half of a broken miniature my father had once painted of her, as I understood. I always wore it, with I know not what secret sentiment, but I showed it to nobody. I had sometimes wondered about the other half, but my life had not left me much time for sentiment or wonder—full of gayety till my grandfather’s death left me homeless; full of gayety since his friend Mrs. Montresor had adopted me for child and companion, subject to her kind whims and tyrannies. But if she took me here and took me there, and clad me like a princess, I was none the less aware of the fact that I was without a penny—morbidly aware of it without doubt. But it disposed me to look with favor on no rich man’s suit, and the lover as penniless as I and as fine as my ideal lover had not yet appeared. It made me almost hate the face and form, the color, the hair, that they dared to call Titianesque, speak of as if it were the free booty of pigment and canvas, and wish to drag captive in the golden chains of their wealth. When I had met Colonel Vorse, a year ago, twice my age though he was, he was the first one I had wished as poor as I—he the plebeian newly rich. Yet not so newly rich was he that he had not had time to become used to his riches, to see the kingdoms of the earth and weigh them in his balance, to serve his country on the battle-field, and his State in the council-chamber; and, for the rest, contact with the world is sadly educating.

“I often look at Colonel Vorse among the men born in the purple,” said Mrs. Montresor once—she thought people born in the purple were simply those who had never earned their living—“and he is the superior of them all. What a country it is where a man keeping a common tavern in the first half of his life may make himself the equal of sovereigns in the other half! I don’t understand it; he is the finest gentleman of them all. And he looks it. Don’t you think so, Helena?”

But I never told Mrs. Montresor what I thought. It is all very well to generalize and to be glad that certain institutions produce certain effects; but of course you are superior to the institutions, or you wouldn’t be generalizing so, and all the more, of course, superior to the effects, and so I don’t see how it signifies to you personally.

“You ought to have your head carried on a pike,” said Mrs. Montresor, again. “You will, if we ever have any bonnets rouges in America. You are the aristocrat pure and simple. The Princess Lamballe was nothing to you. You think humanity exists so that nous autres, by standing on it, may get the light and air. You are sure that you are made of different clay—the canaille of street mud, for instance, and you of the fine white stuff from which they mould Dresden china. You are quite a study to me, my love. I expect to see you marry a pavior yet, either one who lays down or one who tears up paving-stones.” But I had only laughed again. She plumed herself on being cosmopolitan even to her principles.

“You give me credit for too much thinking on the subject,” I said, “if it is credit. Indeed, I don’t concern myself about such people; and as for marrying one of them, I could as soon marry into a different race, African or Mongolian. They are a different race.”

And I remembered all this as Colonel Vorse stood leaning his hand above me on the jamb of the window-frame—for although I was tall, he was a son of Anak—with that air which, never vaunting strength, always made you aware of its repression. I could fancy hearing Mrs. Montresor say, “That air of his! it always fetches women!” for she loved a little slang, by some antipodal attraction of her refinement, and I instinctively stiffened myself, determined it should never fetch me. And here he was calling his allies, the spirits and powers of the dark and terrible mountain heights and depths, and openly giving battle. I don’t know why it depressed me; I felt as if the very fact that it did was a half surrender; I looked up at him a moment; I forgot who he was; I wished he was as poor as I. But to become the mother of Rhoda, my friend, and of Merivale, that laughing young giant—what absurdity, if all the rest were equal! And that other, the dead woman, the first wife—should one not always be jealous of that sweet early love? Could one endure it? Here among these hills with all their ghostliness she would haunt me. And then I turned and swept away to the fireside, holding out my hands to the flame, and glad to sink into the chair that some one had left empty there.

I hardly knew what world I was living in when, perhaps a half-hour later, I heard Colonel Vorse’s voice. “The trouble is that men are not born free and equal,” he was saying. “Free? They are hampered by inheritance and circumstance from the moment of birth. Equal? It is a self-evident lie. And the world has rhapsodized for a hundred years over so clumsy a statement. All men are born with equal rights. That is the precise statement. My rights—rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are equal to the rights of all the princelings of the earth; their rights equal only to mine. So far as they interfere with my rights they are public enemies, and are to be dealt with; and so far as I interfere with their rights, I am a trespasser to be punished. Otherwise, prince or peasant, each is a man, whether he wears a blouse or a star and garter; and if man was made in the image of God, let us do no indignity to that image in one or in another.”

Did I understand him? Was Colonel Vorse proclaiming himself the equal of Prince San Sorcererino who had entertained us in his palaces last year? Well. And was he not? All at once something seemed to sift away from before my eyes—a veil that had hidden my kind from me. Was there no longer even that natural aristocracy in which Shakspeare or Homer or Dante was king? Was the world a brotherhood, and they the public enemy, the enemy of the great perfect race to come, who helped one brother take advantage of another? Were those ribbons in the buttonhole, the gifts of kings, of no more worth than the ribbons of cigars?

Mrs. Montresor was toying with her fan beside me, and talking in an undertone behind it. “What prince of all that you have seen or read of,” said she, “if born on a meagre mountain farm, would have made his fortune and have educated himself, as this man has done? I think the kings who founded races of kings were like him. And what prince of them all alive looks so much the prince as he? This one as fat as Falstaff and as low, that one with a hump on his back, the other without brains, the next with brains awry, and none of them made as becomes a man. Tell me, Helena?”

“I think you are in love yourself,” I said.

She laughed. “As tall as Saul, as dark, as lordly in all proportions, as gentle as Jonathan, and with a soul like David’s—why shouldn’t I be?” she said. “And he not the equal of the granddaughter of a South Carolina planter! Tell me again, Helena, what has she ever done to prove herself his equal?”

She had had a fancy—Heaven knows why—that her young mother, who had run away with her father, was the daughter of a noble foreign family; or else why should the match have been clandestine? She had had a fancy that she was therefore noble, as her mother was—the mother even whose name her child did not know other than as the slaves had told her the young bridegroom called her Pansy because of a pair of purple-dark eyes. That was about all. That was all the answer I could have made, had I spoken, to her gentle raillery, half mockery, in which she did not quite believe herself. But even were it so, and the daughter noble as the mother, could blood that had filtered through generations of oppressors lounging in laps of luxury be pure as this blood that had informed none but simple and innocent lives, and seemed just now as if it had come fresh from the hands of the Maker? I surveyed him from behind the hand-screen that failed to keep the ruddy flames from my face, and if I felt him in that glance to be one of the sons of God, and I but one of the daughters of men, again I did not tell Mrs. Montresor.

But the witch could always read my thoughts. “Still,” she said, “he has kept a tavern. There is no getting round that fact by all the poetry in the world. Then why try to get round it? He has furnished food and shelter to the tired and roofless—as noble a way to make money, surely, as working the bones and muscles of slaves, and accepting the gold they earn.”

“That is the last I have of such gold,” I cried, in a stifled way; and I unclasped the old bracelet on my wrist and tossed it behind the back-log—people were too gayly engaged to observe us at the moment. “I think,” I said then, turning upon her, “that you are employed as an advocate, unless—you are really weary of me.”

“Weary of you!” she exclaimed, half under her breath though it was—“weary of you, when you are such unceasing variety to me that if you married ten thousand tavern-keepers I should always have a room in the inn!”

“Thank Heaven,” I answered her, gayly, “it is an impossibility that I should ever marry one.” And then there was a lull in the laughter and the snatches of song and conversation on the other side of the room; and while I was still gazing after my bracelet and into the chimney-place, where the flames wallowed about unhewn forest logs that took two men to cast to them, Colonel Vorse came over to us.

“You will turn into salamanders,” he said.

“It is bad enough to be in hot water,” said Mrs. Montresor, lightly. “I will leave the fire to you and Helena.”

“Where you sit,” said Colonel Vorse then to me, “if you turn your head slightly to the left, and shade your eyes, you can see the side of the darkest and sternest of our mountains. You know we do not call our hills by the names they have in maps and government surveys; the old settlers who first came here called this one, for unknown reasons of their own, the Mount of Sorrow. It has always been the Mount of Sorrow.”

“An ominous name for so near a neighbor,” I said.

“Ah! you think this region is oppressive, or perhaps dull and tame, without life or stir—desolate, in fact. What if I should tell you that it bubbles, like a caldron over the bottomless pit, with griefs and sins!—that in lives condemned to perpetual imprisonment on these bare rocks, feeding on themselves, traits intensifying, the loneliness, the labor, the negation, slowly extract the juices of humanity, and make crime a matter to be whispered of among them? If they feel they are forgotten by God, what matters the murder or the suicide more or less that gives release? It is hell here or hell there: they are sure of this—they have it; the other may not come to pass.”

“What do you mean?” I said, with white lips; for as he spoke it seemed as if I had come into a land of lepers. “Here in this white solitude, among lives fed from the primitive sources of nature and the dew of the morning—”

“I mean,” he said, “that I refuse to accept the factitious aid your thoughts have lately been bringing to me. You see I have preternatural senses. Because I was born in the snows of the mountains I am no whit whiter than those born in the purlieus of the police stations of the cities. We are simply of the same human nature. When I win regard, it must be for no idle fancy, but for my own identity.”

“Well,” I said, “I do not believe you.”

“Ah!” he replied, “have I gained a point, and found an advocate in an ideal of me? That would be as romantic as any of the romance of the hills. And there is romance here, whether it is born of crime, or of joy, or of sorrow. There is romance enough on that old Mount of Sorrow that you see when the storm opens and strips it in that sudden white glory. Keep your eye, if you please, on a spot half-way up the sky, and when the apparition comes again you will find the dark outline of a dwelling there. It was a dwelling once; now it is only a ruin, hut and barn and byre. Why do you shudder? Do you see it? It is only a shadow. But a shadow with outlines black enough to defy the whitest blast that ever blew. Sometimes it seems to me as though that old ruin were itself a ghostly thing, a spectre of tragedies that will not down; for the avalanches divide and leave it, and the storms whistle over and beat against it, and it is always there when the sun rises. I don’t know what it has to do with my fortunes; I don’t know why it is a blotch upon the face of nature to me; but if ever I grow sad or sick at heart I feel as though I should be made whole again could that evil thing be removed.”

“Why not remove it?”

“It does not belong to me. I can do nothing with it. I am not sure that it belongs to any one—which adds to the spectral, you see—although I suppose there is somewhere a nameless heir. How restless you are!” he said, gently. “Will you come out in the long hall where the great window gives an unobstructed view of the thing, and walk off this nervousness? The storm is lifting, I think; the moon is going to overcome. One may see by the way the fire burns that the temperature is mounting. Perhaps we shall have a snow-slide as we walk.”

Rhoda and Merivale were singing some of the songs they had learned since they came into the hill country, Mrs. Montresor was nodding behind her fan an accompaniment to Dr. Devens’s remarks, Adèle was deep in her novel, and a flirtation and some portfolios of prints occupied the rest. To refuse was only to attract attention; besides, I should like to walk. I rose and went out with him into the hall that shut off the wing from the great empty caravansary.

“‘And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor,’”

I quoted as we walked; and despite the fire burning on either side, he had brought me a fur for my shoulders.

“Yes,” he said, “there comes the moon at last. Now you shall see the black and white of it.”

“Oh!” I cried, clasping my hands, as all the silvery lights and immense shadows burst out in a terrible sort of radiance. “The world began to be made here! Poets should be born here!”

“Instead of tavern-keepers,” said he, “which brings me to my story. I am forty-three years old. Of course I was younger twenty-three years ago. That must have been not long before you came into the world yourself. Do you insist upon thinking twenty years’ difference in age makes any disparity, except in the case of him who has lost just that twenty years’ sweetness out of his life?”

“I hardly see what that has to do with the story of the Mount of Sorrow,” I said, as we turned from the window to measure the length of the hall again.

“I hope,” said he, “that the suffrage reform, which is to admit women to the ballot, will never let them sit on the judicial bench, for mercy is foreign to the heart of a woman.”

“Is it not a strange way of telling a story?” I exclaimed.

“Patience!” he laughed. “The story is so short it needs a little preface. As I was saying then, when I was twenty years old or so, the name of old Raynier, of the Mount of Sorrow, was a by-word of terror through the region round, as the name of his father was, and his father before him. He had no other property than the sterile farm half-way up the mountain, and almost inaccessible—in winter entirely inaccessible—where he raised not half a support on the slips of earth among the ledges; his few starved sheep and goats did what they could for him, and his rifle did the rest. The first Raynier of them all was possibly an escaped convict, who fortified his retreat by these mountain-sides. He had no money; the women spun and wove all that was worn. He had no education; no Raynier had ever had; no Raynier had ever had occasion to sign his mark, let alone his name. There had been one son in each generation; neither church nor school ever saw him; his existence was scarcely known till he was ready to marry, and then he came down, and by no one knows what other magic than a savage force of nature took the prettiest girl of the valley to his eyrie—sometimes his wife, sometimes not. When she died, and she always died, the Raynier of the day replaced her. He did not always wait for her to die before replacing her. But sudden deaths were no uncommon thing in that house; there was a burial-ground scooped in the hill-side. And who was there to interfere? Perhaps no one knew there had been a death till the year was out. What if a woman went mad? That happened anywhere. People below might prate of murder, or suicide, or slow poison; there was nobody to whom it was vital enough to open the question seriously; and then they feared the Raynier with an uncanny fear, as people fear a catamount in the woods, or the goblin of old wives’ tales after dark. There were horrible stories of bouts and brawls, of tortures, gags, whips, and—oh, no matter! Nor was all the crime on the shoulders of the Raynier men. It was understood that more than one woman of the name found life too intolerable to endure its conditions when the fumes of a charcoal fire after a drunken feast, or a quick thrust over the edge of a precipice, or a bit of weed in the broth, made life easier, till remorse brought madness. And finally, if any Raynier died what may be called a natural death, it was either from starvation or from delirium tremens. You see they were a precious lot.”

“A precious lot!” I said, trembling. “Ah, what is heaven made of? Poor wretches, they could not help it. From generation to generation the children of such people must needs be criminal.”

“I don’t know. If removed from such influence. To my mind environment is strong as heredity, quite as strong. It destroys the old and creates the new. However, environment and heredity worked together up there. In my day—to continue—the Raynier family was larger than usual. The last wife still lived, a miserable cowed creature, white as ashes, face and hair and bleached scared eyes, eyes that looked as if they saw phantoms rather than people. Her mind was partially gone. I was a famous mountaineer then, and climbing wherever foot of man had been before, I once in a while came upon some or other of that family, and sometimes paused at the door, where I had first to teach the bloodhounds a lesson. I never entered the filthy place but once. There were two sons and a daughter. Oh, how immortally beautiful that girl was! Such velvet darkness in the eye, such statuesque lines, such rose-leaf color, such hair—‘hair like the thistle-down tinted with gold,’ as John Mills, the Scotch poet-player, sang. The old man Raynier worshipped her, perhaps as a wild beast loves its whelp. But he had all sorts of fanciful names for her, Heart’s-ease and Heart’s Delight, and Violet and Rose and Lily. He grew almost gentle when he spoke to her; and he never knew that she was feeble-minded. She just missed being an imbecile. Perhaps you would not have known that all at once; you might not have found it out at all only meeting her casually. The old man Raynier sent her down to school—the first that had ever been there: she could never learn to read. She could not always tell her name. Still, her mind was innocent—perhaps because it was a blank. I have sometimes thought that blank mind of hers may have been a dead-wall through which the vices of her forebears could not pass, and so her children, if she had them, may have escaped the inheritance, and found a chance for good again, as if crime should at last estop itself. That may be.”

“Oh, I think this is terrible!” I said, as we turned again in our walk. “Make haste, please, and be through.”

“Yes, it is. But I would show you that life can be anything but commonplace in this wilderness. Well, blank or not, she had a lover, who had found her out in his sketching rambles, a young painter from some distant parts, and the first boarder I ever had, by the way. And all the Rayniers swore they would have his life sooner than he should have her. One day I had been hunting on old Mount Sorrow, as it happened; there had been a sudden frost following rain that had frozen the water in the cracks of the cliffs, and made the way not only slippery, but dangerous; for in the heat of the noon sun the ice was melting, and every now and then its expansion was rending some fragment of rock so that your footing might vanish from beneath, or some shower of stones come rattling down from above; and I was tired when I reached the Raynier place, led by a blaze of maple boughs that started out like torches to show the way, and stopped to rest. I looked up at an enormous shelf of rock, half clad with reddened vines that fluttered like pestilence flags—a shelf that, although some hundred feet or so away from it, yet overhung the place and cast a perpetual shadow there. I wondered then why Nature had no secret springs of feeling to thrill her and cause her to rend the rocks and cover such a den of iniquity as we all held the spot to be. But Nature was just as fair that ambrosial September day as if there was not a dissonance. Perhaps she knew the right of the Rayniers to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A delicious scent of the balsam from the pines filled the air, the sunshine swept over the hills below in waves of light, and the hills themselves were like waves of a golden green and purple sea where now and then a rainbow swam and broke. Peace and perfectness, I said, peace and perfectness. These people live and are happy. On the other side one looked into the dreary defile of the mountain gate, with its black depths hung with cloud, and remembered that if there was not a hell, there ought to be. I was thinking this as I sat there, when I heard a wild cry, an agonized shriek, blood-curdling, repeated and repeated from within. It was the girl’s voice. I was on my feet, and, in spite of the bloodhounds, making for the spot and among the crew. The old woman cowered in the corner, the two brothers held the girl, the old man towered over her, his great eyes blazing in his ashen face. I can’t tell you what they were doing. Sometimes I have thought old Raynier was burning her with a hot iron he held—”

“Oh, horrible! horrible!”

“Burning her with a hot iron to make her give up her lover! Sometimes I have thought he was only demolishing the little likenesses of him and of herself, which that lover had painted, and which she cherished, perhaps as his work, perhaps for the unwonted gewgaw of the slender golden frame, for the one picture was already in fragments, and although she clutched half of the other, the broken half had fallen and rolled away. I have it somewhere. I will show it to you. I had no time, indeed, to see what it was they were doing, for behind me bounded that lover like a whirlwind, thrust one brother and the other aside, seized the girl, darted over the door-sill with her, and down the crags of the mountain path. He should have what help I could give. I was after him, stooping to catch up the fragment of painting as I turned, down the cliff’s edge, they following. And all at once I stopped as if paralyzed to the marrow by a clap of thunder, and turned my head to see the old man with his white hair streaming, and his arms uplifted in his cursing, as he came leaping on, and the next moment the shelf of overhanging rock had fallen, had cleft the house in twain, and mother and father and sons and hounds were dust with the dust flying over the precipices. I saw it.”

“Oh!” I cried, with my hands over my eyes. “Why did it not strike you blind?”

“And here,” said Colonel Vorse, leading my steps to an old cabinet in an alcove, “ought to be the half of that little likeness I picked up as I ran. I wonder what became of the other half—what became of the girl—if the lover married her—if she knew enough to know he didn’t marry her—if she lived long enough for him to find out she was a fool—if she was the last of the Rayniers?” As he ceased, he put the half of the little miniature into my hands.

It was a broken bit of ivory, and on it the upper part of a face, sketchily done, with pansy-dark eyes and blush rose skin—without a frame. I had the frame.

A heart beat, a fluttering breath, a reeling sense of the world staggering away from me, and then my bewildered senses were at work again, and an agony like death was cutting me to the heart as we resumed our walking.

Should I tell him? Should I go on with my secret, my inheritance, my curse, and let no man know? If it ate out my heart, the sooner to end; my heart was broken now. Never, never now could fireside shine for me, could lover’s lips be mine, could little faces sun themselves in my smile.

We paused before the great window, with those vague white shapes before us, for my feet would not obey me, and the light behind us shone on the bit of ivory. If I told him, it would be easier for him to bear; he would see the impossibility, he would desire my love no longer. My fearful inheritance would yawn like a gulf between us with its impassable darkness.

“And the ruin on the hill-side is an eye-sore,” I said. “But it is easy to remove it. I suppose it belongs to me. For—look here—it is I who must be the last of the Rayniers.” And I drew from my breast the broken thing, the halved miniature, that in my mock sentiment I had worn so long.

“You!” cried he. “You!” And his feet tottered, and he leaned against the casement for support—he who an hour or so ago had seemed so full of repressed strength that he could have pulled his house down about his ears. Well, had he not done so?

I moved to his side, and held the thing that he might see where the pieces matched, the line of the cheek flowing into the lovely curve of the chin, the flickering sweetness of the lovely mouth, the lambent glance of the lovely eye. “It is my mother, you see,” I said. “And it needs no words to say it.”

“It needs no words to say it,” he repeated, hoarsely. “It is your image. Oh, my God! What have I done! what have I done! My darling, my darling, you must let me repair it by a lifetime of devotion.” And he had his arms about me, and was drawing me to his heaving breast, his throbbing heart.

“No! no! no!” I sobbed. “It is impossible. I am wrecked; I am ruined; I can be no man’s wife. You see yourself—I will never—” But his lips were silencing mine, and I lay there with those arms about me a moment; I lay there like one in heaven suspended over hell.

“What do I care,” he whispered, “for all the Rayniers in Christendom or out of it, but you? I have learned in this moment that you love me! I will never give you up.”

“You must,” I groaned.

“I tell you I never will,” he said, his voice husky and low and trembling, but his eye and his grasp firm. “I have assured you that environment, education, art, can supplement nature and heredity. They have done so with you. You are your father’s child. You received from your mother only the vital spark, only this beauty, this fatal beauty. If you inherited all that the Rayniers ever had, then I love, I love, I love all that the Rayniers ever were, for I love you. I have your love, Helena, and I will never let you go.” While speaking he had touched the bell at his hand, and now he sent the answering servant for Dr. Devens, who came at once, supposing some sight of the snow was in store.

“Bid them all out here, Doctor,” cried Colonel Vorse. “Ah, here they come! In this part of the country we need no license for marriage. Here are a bride and groom awaiting your blessing. Perform your office, sir.” And before I could summon heart or voice, making no response, bewildered and faint, I was the wife of Colonel Vorse, and my husband’s arms were supporting me as the words of the prayer and benediction rolled over us.

“There is no time like the present,” he cried, gayly, his tones no longer broken, “as I have always found.” And suddenly, before he ceased, and while they all thronged round me, there came a sharp strange sigh singing through the air, that grew into the wild discordant music of multitudinous echoes, and we all turned and sprang intuitively to see, rent in the moonlight and sheathed in the glorious spray of a thousand ice-falls, the Mount of Sorrow bow its head and come down, and, while the whole earth shook and smoked back in hoar vapors, the great snow-slide in its swift sheeting splendor flash and wipe out before our eyes the last timber of the hut and barn and byre of the Rayniers.