by Louisa May Alcott

Previous Chapter Next Chapter



It began with a pleasant journey. Day after day they loitered along country roads that led them through many scenes of summer beauty; pausing at old-fashioned inns and wayside farmhouses, or gipsying at noon in some green nook where their four-footed comrades dined off their tablecloth while they made merry over the less simple fare their last hostess had provided for them. When the scenery was uninteresting, as was sometimes the case, for Nature will not disturb her domestic arrangements for any bridal pair, one or the other read aloud, or both sang, while conversation was a never-failing pastime and silence had charms which they could enjoy. Sometimes they walked a mile or two, ran down a hillside, rustled through a grain field, strolled into an orchard, or feasted from fruitful hedges by the way, as care-free as the squirrels on the wall, or the jolly brown bees lunching at the sign of "The Clover-top." They made friends with sheep in meadows, cows at the brook, travellers morose or bland, farmers full of a sturdy sense that made their chat as wholesome as the mould they delved in; school children barefooted and blithe, and specimens of womankind, from the buxom housewife who took them under her motherly wing at once, to the sour, snuffy, shoe-binding spinster with "No Admittance" written all over her face.

To Moor the world was glorified with the purple light which seldom touches it but once for any of us; the journey was a wedding march, made beautiful by summer, victorious by joy; his young wife the queen of women, and himself an equal of the gods because no longer conscious of a want. Sylvia could not be otherwise than happy, for finding unbounded liberty and love her portion, she had nothing to regret, and regarded marriage as an agreeable process which had simply changed her name and given her protector, friend, and lover all in one. She was therefore her sweetest and sincerest self, miraculously docile, and charmingly gay; interested in all she saw, and quite overflowing with delight when the last days of the week betrayed the secret that her destination was the mountains.

Loving the sea so well, her few flights from home had given her only marine experiences, and the flavor of entire novelty was added to the feast her husband had provided for her. It came to her not only when she could enjoy it most, but when she needed it most, soothing the unquiet, stimulating the nobler elements which ruled her life by turns and fitting her for what lay before her. Choosing the quietest roads, Moor showed her the wonders of a region whose wild grandeur and beauty make its memory a life-long satisfaction. Day after day they followed mountain paths, studying the changes of an ever-varying landscape, watching the flush of dawn redden the granite fronts of these Titans scarred with centuries of storm, the lustre of noon brood over them until they smiled, the evening purple wrap them in its splendor, or moonlight touch them with its magic; till Sylvia, always looking up at that which filled her heart with reverence and awe, was led to look beyond, and through the medium of the friend beside her learned that human love brings us nearer to the Divine, and is the surest means to that great end.

The last week of the honeymoon came all too soon, for then they had promised to return. The crowning glory of the range was left until the last, and after a day of memorable delights Sylvia sat in the sunset feasting her eyes upon the wonders of a scene which is indescribable, for words have limits and that is apparently illimitable. Presently Moor came to her asking--

"Will you join a party to the great ice palace, and see three acres of snow in August, worn by a waterfall into a cathedral, as white if not as durable as any marble?"

"I sit so comfortably here I think I had rather not. But you must go because you like such wonders, and I shall rest till you come back."

"Then I shall take myself off and leave you to muse over the pleasures of the day, which for a few hours has made you one of the most eminent women this side the Rocky Mountains. There is a bugle at the house here with which to make the echoes, I shall take it with me, and from time to time send up a sweet reminder that you are not to stray away and lose yourself."

Sylvia sat for half an hour, then wearied by the immensity of the wide landscape she tried to rest her mind by examining the beauties close at hand. Strolling down the path the sight-seers had taken, she found herself in a rocky basin, scooped in the mountain side like a cup for a little pool, so clear and bright it looked a diamond set in jet. A fringe of scanty herbage had collected about its brim, russet mosses, purple heath, and delicate white flowers, like a band of tiny hill people keeping their revels by some fairy well. The spot attracted her, and remembering that she was not to stray away, she sat down beside the path to wait for her husband's return.

In the act of bending over the pool to sprinkle the thirsty little company about it, her hand was arrested by the tramp of approaching feet, and looking up to discover who was the disturber of her retreat, she saw a man pausing at the top of the path opposite to that by which she had come. He seemed scrutinizing the solitary occupant of the dell before descending; but as she turned her face to him he flung away knapsack, hat, and staff, and then with a great start she saw no stranger, but Adam Warwick. Coming down to her so joyfully, so impetuously, she had only time to recognise him, and cry out, when she was swept up in an embrace as tender as irresistible, and lay there conscious of nothing, but that happiness like some strong swift angel had wrapt her away into the promised land so long believed in, hungered for, and despaired of, as forever lost. Soon she heard his voice, breathless, eager, but so fond it seemed another voice than his.

"My darling! did you think I should never come?"

"I thought you had forgotten me, I knew you were married. Adam, put me down."

But he only held her closer, and laughed such a happy laugh that Sylvia felt the truth before he uttered it.

"How could I marry, loving you? How could I forget you even if I had never come to tell you this? Sylvia, I know much that has passed. Geoffrey's failure gave me courage to hope for success, and that the mute betrothal made with a look so long ago had been to you all it has been to me."

"Adam, you are both right and wrong,--you do not know all,--let me tell you,"--began Sylvia, as these proofs of ignorance brought her to herself with a shock of recollection and dismay. But Warwick was as absolute in his happiness as he had been in his self-denial, and took possession of her mentally as well as physically with a despotism too welcome and entire to be at once resisted.

"You shall tell me nothing till I have shown the cause of my hard-seeming silence. I must throw off that burden first, then I will listen to you until morning if you will. I have earned this moment by a year of effort, let me keep you here and enjoy it without alloy."

The old charm had lost none of its power, for absence seemed to have gifted it with redoubled potency, the confirmation of that early hope to grace it with redoubled warmth. Sylvia let him keep her, feeling that he had earned that small reward for a year's endeavor, resolving to grant all now left her to bestow, a few moments more of blissful ignorance, then to show him his loss and comfort him, sure that her husband would find no disloyalty in a compassion scarcely less deep and self-forgetful than his own would have been had he shared their secret. Only pausing to place himself upon the seat she had left, Warwick put off her hat, and turning her face to his regarded it with such unfeigned and entire content her wavering purpose was fixed by a single look. Then as he began to tell the story of the past she forgot everything but the rapid words she listened to, the countenance she watched, so beautifully changed and softened, it seemed as if she had never seen the man before, or saw him now as we sometimes see familiar figures glorified in dreams. In the fewest, kindest words Warwick told her of Ottila, the promise and the parting; then, as if the dearer theme deserved less brevity, he lingered on it as one lingers at a friend's door, enjoying in anticipation the welcome he is sure awaits him.

"The night we walked together by the river--such a wilful yet winning comrade as I had that day, and how I enjoyed it all!--that night I suspected that Geoffrey loved you, Sylvia, and was glad to think it. A month later I was sure of it, and found in that knowledge the great hardship of my life, because I loved you myself. Audacious thing! how dared you steal into my heart and take possession when I had turned my last guest out and barred the door? I thought I had done with the sentiment that had so nearly wrecked me once, but see how blind I was--the false love only made me readier for the true. You never seemed a child to me, Sylvia, because you have an old soul in a young body, and your father's trials and temptations live again in you. This first attracted me. I liked to watch, to question, to study the human enigma to which I had found a clue from its maker's lips. I liked your candor and simplicity, your courage and caprice. Even your faults found favor in my eyes; for pride, will, impetuosity were old friends of mine, and I liked to see them working in another shape. At first you were a curiosity, then an amusement, then a necessity. I wanted you, not occasionally, but constantly. You put salt and savor into life for me; for whether you spoke or were silent, were sweet or sour, friendly or cold, I was satisfied to feel your nearness, and always took away an inward content which nothing else could give me. This affection was so unlike the other that I deceived myself for a time--not long. I soon knew what had befallen me, soon felt that this sentiment was good to feel, because I forgot my turbulent and worser self and felt the nobler regenerated by the innocent companionship you gave me. I wanted you, but it was not the touch of hands or lips, the soft encounter of eyes, the tones of tenderness, I wanted most. It was that something beyond my reach, vital and vestal, invisible, yet irresistible; that something, be it heart, soul, or mind, which drew me to you by an attraction genial and genuine as itself. My Sylvia, that was love, and when it came to me I took it in, sure that whether its fruition was granted or denied I should be a manlier man for having harbored it even for an hour. Why turn your face away? Well, hide it if you will, but lean here as you did once so long ago."

She let him lay it on his shoulder, still feeling that Moor was one to look below the surface of these things and own that she did well in giving so pure a love a happy moment before its death, as she would have cherished Warwick had he laid dying.

"On that September evening, as I sat alone, I had been thinking of what might be and what must be. Had decided that I would go away for Geoffrey's sake. He was fitter than I to have you, being so gentle, and in all ways ready to possess a wife. I was so rough, such a vagrant, so full of my own purposes and plans, how could I dare to take into my keeping such a tender little creature as yourself? I thought you did not care for me; I knew any knowledge of my love would only mar his own; so it was best to go at once and leave him to the happiness he so well deserved. Just then you came to me, as if the wind had blown my desire to my arms. Such a loving touch that was! it nearly melted my resolve, it seemed hard not to take the one thing I wanted, when it came to me so opportunely. I yearned to break that idle promise, made when I was vain in my own conceit, and justly punished for its folly; but you said keep it, and I did. You could not understand my trouble, and when I sat before you so still, perhaps looking grim and cold, you did not know how I was wrestling with my unruly self. I am not truly generous, for the relinquishment of any cherished object always costs a battle, and I too often find I am worsted. For the first time I dared not meet your eyes till you dived into mine with that expression wistful and guileless, which has often made me feel as if we stood divested of our bodies, soul to soul.

"Tongue I could control, heart I could not. Up it sprung stronger than will, swifter than thought, and answered you. Sylvia, had there been one ray of self-consciousness in those steady eyes of yours, one atom of maiden shame, or fear, or trouble, I should have claimed you as my own. There was not; and though you let me read your face like an open book, you never dreamed what eloquence was in it. Innocent heart, that loved and had not learned to know it. I saw this instantly, saw that a few more such encounters would show it to you likewise, and felt more strongly than before that if ever the just deed to you, the generous one to Geoffrey were done, it should be then. For that was the one moment when your half-awakened heart could fall painlessly asleep again, if I did not disturb it, and dream on till Geoffrey woke it, to find a gentler master than I could be to it."

"It could not, Adam; you had wholly roused it, and it cried for you so long, so bitterly, oh, why did you not come to answer it before?"

"How could I till the year was over? Was I not obeying you in keeping that accursed promise? God knows I have made many blunders, but I think the most senseless was that promise; the most short-sighted, that belief. What right had I to fetter my tongue, or try to govern love? Shall I ever learn to do my own work aright, and not meddle with the Lord's? Sylvia, take this presumptuous and domineering devil out of me in time, lest I blunder as blindly after you are mine as I have before. Now let me finish before Mark comes to find us. I went away, you know, singing the farewell I dared not speak, and for nine months kept myself sane and steady with whatever my hands found to do. If ever work of mine is blessed it will be that, for into it I put the best endeavor of my life. Though I had renounced you, I kept my love; let it burn day and night, fed it with labor and with prayer, trusting that this selfish heart of mine might be recast and made a fitter receptacle for an enduring treasure. In May, far at the West, I met a woman who knew Geoffrey; had seen him lately, and learned that he had lost you. She was his cousin, I his friend, and through our mutual interest in him this confidence naturally came about. When she told me this hope blazed up, and all manner of wild fancies haunted me. Love is arrogant, and I nourished a belief that even I might succeed where Geoffrey failed. You were so young, you were not likely to be easily won by any other, if such a man had asked in vain, and a conviction gradually took possession of me that you _had_ understood, _had_ loved, and were yet waiting for me. A month seemed an eternity to wait, but I left myself no moment for despair, and soon turned my face to Cuba, finding renewed hope on the way. Gabriel went with me, told me how Ottila had searched for me, and failing to find me had gone back to make ready for my coming. How she had tried to be all I desired, and how unworthy I was of her. This was well, but the mention of your name was better, and much close questioning gave me the scene which he remembered, because Ottila had chidden him sharply for his disclosures to yourself. Knowing you so well, I gathered much from trifles which were nothing in Gabriel's eyes. I felt that regard for me, if nothing warmer, had prompted your interest in them; and out of the facts given me by Faith and Gabriel I built myself a home, which I have inhabited as a guest till now, when I know myself its master, and welcome its dear mistress, so my darling."

He bent to give her tender greeting, but Sylvia arrested him.

"Not yet, Adam! not yet! Go on, before it is too late to tell me as you wish."

He thought it was some maidenly scruple, and though he smiled at it he respected it, for this same coyness in the midst of all her whims had always been one of her attractions in his eye.

"Shy thing! I will tame you yet, and draw you to me as confidingly as I drew the bird to hop into my hand and eat. You must not fear me, Sylvia, else I shall grow tyrannical; for I hate fear, and like to trample on whatever dares not fill its place bravely, sure that it will receive its due as trustfully as these little mosses sit among the clouds and find a spring to feed them even in the rock. Now I will make a speedy end of this, pleasant as it is to sit here feeling myself no longer a solitary waif. I shall spare you the stormy scenes I passed through with Ottila, because I do not care to think of my Cleopatra while I hold 'my fine spirit Ariel' in my arms. She had done her best, but had I been still heart-free I never could have married her. She is one of those tameless natures which only God can govern; I dared not, even when I thought I loved her, for much as I love power I love truth more. I told her this, heard prayers, reproaches, threats, and denunciations; tried to leave her kindly, and then was ready for my fate with you. But I was not to have my will so easily. I had fallen into the net, and was not to leave it till the scourging had been given. So like that other wandering Christian, I cried out, submitted, and was the meeker for it. I had to wait a little before the ship sailed; I would not stay at El Labarinto, Gabriel's home, for Ottila was there; and though the fever raged at Havana, I felt secure in my hitherto unbroken health. I returned there, and paid the penalty; for weeks of suffering taught me that I could not trifle with this body of mine, sturdy as it seemed."

"Oh, Adam, who took care of you? Where did you lie and suffer all that time?"

"Never fret yourself concerning that; I was not neglected. A sister of the 'Sacred Heart' took excellent care of me, and a hospital is as good as a palace when one neither knows nor cares where he is. It went hardly with me, I believe; but being resolved to live, I fought it through. Death looked at me, had compassion, and passed by. There is a Haytien proverb which must comfort you if I am a gaunt ghost of my former self: 'A lean freeman is better than a fat slave.' There comes the first smile I have seen; but my next bit of news will bring a frown, I think. When I was well enough to creep out, I learned that Ottila was married. You heard the rumor, doubtless, but not the name, for Gabriel's and mine were curiously blended in many minds by the suddenness of my disappearance and his appearance as the bridegroom. It was like her,--she had prepared for me as if sure I was to fill the place I had left, hoping that this confidence of hers would have its due effect upon me. It did try me sorely, but an experience once over is as if it had never been, as far as regret or indecision is concerned; therefore wedding gowns and imperious women failed to move me. To be left a groomless bride stung that fiery pride of hers more than many an actual shame or sin would have done. People would pity her, would see her loss, deride her wilful folly. Gabriel loved her as she desired to be loved, blindly and passionately; few knew of our later bond, many of our betrothal, why not let the world believe me the rejected party come back for a last appeal? I had avoided all whom I once knew, for I loathed the place; no one had discovered me at the hospital, she thought me gone, she boldly took the step, married the poor boy, left Cuba before I was myself again, and won herself an empty victory which I never shall disturb."

"How strange! Yet I can believe it of her, she looked a woman who would dare do anything. Then you came back, Adam, to find me? What led you here, hoping so much and knowing so little?"

"Did you ever know me do anything in the accustomed way? Do I not always aim straight at the thing I want and pursue it by the shortest road? It fails often, and I go back to the slower surer way; but my own is always tried first, as involuntarily as I hurled myself down that slope, as if storming a fort instead of meeting my sweetheart. That is a pretty old word beloved of better men than I, so let me use it once. Among the first persons I met on landing was a friend of your father's; he was just driving away in hot haste, but catching a glimpse of the familiar face, I bethought me that it was the season for summer travel, you might be away, and no one else would satisfy me; he might know, and time be saved. I asked one question, 'Where are the Yules?' He answered, as he vanished, 'The young people are all at the mountains.' That was enough, and congratulating myself on the forethought which would save me some hundred miles of needless delay, away I went, and for days have been searching for you every where on that side of these hills which I know so well. But no Yules had passed, and feeling sure you were on this side I came, not around, but straight over, for this seemed a royal road to my love, and here I found her waiting for me by the way. Now Sylvia, are your doubts all answered, your fears all laid, your heart at rest on mine?"

As the time drew nearer Sylvia's task daunted her. Warwick was so confident, so glad and tender over her, it seemed like pronouncing the death doom to say those hard words, "It is too late." While she struggled to find some expression that should tell all kindly yet entirely, Adam, seeming to read some hint of her trouble, asked, with that gentleness which now overlaid his former abruptness, and was the more alluring for the contrast--

"Have I been too arrogant a lover? too sure of happiness, too blind to my small deserts? Sylvia, have I misunderstood the greeting you have given me?"

"Yes, Adam, utterly."

He knit his brows, his eye grew anxious, his content seemed rudely broken, but still hopefully he said--

"You mean that absence has changed you, that you do not love me as you did, and pity made you kind? Well, I receive the disappointment, but I do not relinquish my desire. What has been may be; let me try again to earn you; teach me to be humble, patient, all that I should be to make myself more dear to you. Something disturbs you, be frank with me; I have shown you all my heart, what have you to show me in return?"

"Only this."

She freed herself entirely from his hold and held up her hand before him. He did not see the ring; he thought she gave him all he asked, and with a glow of gratitude extended both his own to take it. Then she saw that delay was worse than weak, and though she trembled she spoke out bravely ending his suspense at once.

"Adam, I do _not_ love you as I did, nor can I wish or try to bring it back, because--I am married."

He sprung up as if shot through the heart, nor could a veritable bullet from her hand have daunted him with a more intense dismay than those three words. An instant's incredulity, then conviction came to him, and he met it like a man, for though his face whitened and his eye burned with an expression that wrung her heart, he demanded steadily,--

"To whom?"

This was the hardest question of all, for well she knew the name would wound the deeper for its dearness, and while it lingered pitifully upon her lips its owner answered for himself. Clear and sweet came up the music of the horn, bringing them a familiar air they all loved, and had often sung together. Warwick knew it instantly, felt the hard truth but rebelled against it, and put out his arm as if to ward it off as he exclaimed, with real anguish in countenance and voice--

"Oh, Sylvia! it is not Geoffrey?"


Then, as if all strength had gone out of her, she dropped down upon the mossy margin of the spring and covered up her face, feeling that the first sharpness of a pain like this was not for human eyes to witness. How many minutes passed she could not tell, the stillness of the spot remained unbroken by any sound but the whisper of the wind, and in this silence Sylvia found time to marvel at the calmness which came to her. Self had been forgotten in surprise and sympathy, and still her one thought was how to comfort Warwick. She had expected some outburst of feeling, some gust of anger or despair, but neither sigh nor sob, reproach nor regret reached her, and soon she stole an anxious glance to see how it went with him. He was standing where she left him, both hands locked together till they were white with the passionate pressure. His eyes fixed on some distant object with a regard as imploring as unseeing, and through those windows of the soul he looked out darkly, not despairingly; but as if sure that somewhere there was help for him, and he waited for it with a stern patience more terrible to watch than the most tempestuous grief. Sylvia could not bear it, and remembering that her confession had not yet been made, seized that instant for the purpose, prompted by an instinct which assured her that the knowledge of her pain would help him to bear his own.

She told him all, and ended saying--

"Now, Adam, come to me and let me try to comfort you."

Sylvia was right; for through the sorrowful bewilderment that brought a brief eclipse of hope and courage, sympathy reached him like a friendly hand to uphold him till he found the light again. While speaking, she had seen the immobility that frightened her break up, and Warwick's whole face flush and quiver with the rush of emotions controllable no longer. But the demonstration which followed was one she had never thought to see from him, for when she stretched her hands to him with that tender invitation, she saw the deep eyes fill and overflow. Then he threw himself down before her, and for the first time in her short life showed her that sad type of human suffering, a man weeping like a woman.

Warwick was one of those whose passions, as his virtues, were in unison with the powerful body they inhabited, and in such a crisis as the present but one of two reliefs were possible to him; either wrathful denunciation, expostulation and despair, or the abandon of a child. Against the former he had been struggling dumbly till Sylvia's words had turned the tide, and too entirely natural to feel a touch of shame at that which is not a weakness but a strength, too wise to reject so safe an outlet for so dangerous a grief, he yielded to it, letting the merciful magic of tears quench the fire, wash the first bitterness away, and leave reproaches only writ in water. It was better so, and Sylvia acknowledged it within herself as she sat mute and motionless, softly touching the brown hair scattered on the moss, her poor consolation silenced by the pathos of the sight, while through it all rose and fell the fitful echo of the horn, in very truth "a sweet reminder not to stray away and lose herself." An hour ago it would have been a welcome sound, for peak after peak gave back the strain, and airy voices whispered it until the faintest murmur died. But now she let it soar and sigh half heard, for audible to her alone still came its sad accompaniment of bitter human tears. To Warwick it was far more; for music, the comforter, laid her balm on his sore heart as no mortal pity could have done, and wrought the miracle which changed the friend who seemed to have robbed him of his love to an unconscious Orpheus, who subdued the savage and harmonized the man. Soon he was himself again, for to those who harbor the strong virtues with patient zeal, no lasting ill can come, no affliction can wholly crush, no temptation wholly vanquish. He rose with eyes the clearer for their stormy rain, twice a man for having dared to be a child again. Humbler and happier for the knowledge that neither vain resentment nor unjust accusation had defrauded of its dignity, the heavy hour that left him desolate but not degraded.

"I _am_ comforted, Sylvia, rest assured of that. And now there is little more to say, but one thing to do. I shall not see your husband yet, and leave you to tell him what seems best, for, with the instinct of an animal, I always go away to outlive my hurts alone. But remember that I acquit you of blame, and believe that I will yet be happy in your happiness. I know if Geoffrey were here, he would let me do this, because he has suffered as I suffer now."

Bending, he gathered her to an embrace as different from that other as despair is from delight, and while he held her there, crowding into one short minute, all the pain and passion of a year, she heard a low, but exceeding bitter cry--"Oh, my Sylvia! it is hard to give you up." Then with a solemn satisfaction, which assured her as it did himself, he spoke out clear and loud--

"Thank God for the merciful Hereafter, in which we may retrieve the blunders we make here."

With that he left her, never turning till the burden so joyfully cast down had been resumed. Then, staff and hat in hand, he paused on the margin of that granite cup, to him a cup of sorrow, and looked into its depths again. Clouds were trooping eastward, but in that pause the sun glanced full on Warwick's figure, lifting his powerful head into a flood of light, as he waved his hand to Sylvia with a gesture of courage and good cheer. The look, the act, the memories they brought her, made her heart ache with a sharper pang than pity, and filled her eyes with tears of impotent regret, as she turned her head as if to chide the blithe clamor of the horn. When she looked again, the figure and the sunshine were both gone, leaving her alone and in the shadow.

Return to the Moods Summary Return to the Louisa May Alcott Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson