by Louisa May Alcott

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Sylvia laid her head down on her pillow, believing that this night would be the longest, saddest she had ever known. But before she had time to sigh for sleep it wrapt her in its comfortable arms, and held her till day broke. Sunshine streamed across the room, and early birds piped on the budding boughs that swayed before the window. But no morning smile saluted her, no morning flower awaited her, and nothing but a little note lay on the unpressed pillow at her side.

"Sylvia, I have gone away to Faith, because this proud, resentful spirit of mine must be subdued before I meet you. I leave that behind me which will speak to you more kindly, calmly than I can now, and show you that my effort has been equal to my failure. There is nothing for me to do but submit; manfully if I must, meekly if I can; and this short exile will prepare me for the longer one to come. Take counsel with those nearer and dearer to you than myself, and secure the happiness which I have so ignorantly delayed, but cannot wilfully destroy. God be with you, and through all that is and is to come, remember that you remain beloved forever in the heart of Geoffrey Moor."

Sylvia had known many sad uprisings, but never a sadder one than this, and the hours that followed aged her more than any year had done. All day she wandered aimlessly to and fro, for the inward conflict would not let her rest. The house seemed home no longer when its presiding genius was gone, and everywhere some token of his former presence touched her with its mute reproach.

She asked no counsel of her family, for well she knew the outburst of condemnation, incredulity, and grief that would assail her there. They could not help her yet; they would only augment perplexities, weaken convictions, and distract her mind. When she was sure of herself she would tell them, endure their indignation and regret, and steadily execute the new purpose, whatever it should be.

To many it might seem an easy task to break the bond that burdened and assume the tie that blessed. But Sylvia had grown wise in self-knowledge, timorous through self-delusion; therefore the greater the freedom given her the more she hesitated to avail herself of it. The nobler each friend grew as she turned from one to the other, the more impossible seemed the decision, for generous spirit and loving heart contended for the mastery, yet neither won. She knew that Moor had put her from him never to be recalled till some miracle was wrought that should make her truly his. This renunciation showed her how much he had become to her, how entirely she had learned to lean upon him, and how great a boon such perfect love was in itself. Even the prospect of a life with Warwick brought forebodings with its hope. Reason made her listen to many doubts which hitherto passion had suppressed. Would she never tire of his unrest? Could she fill so large a heart and give it power as well as warmth? Might not the two wills clash, the ardent natures inflame one another, the stronger intellect exhaust the weaker, and disappointment come again? And as she asked these questions, conscience, the monitor whom no bribe can tempt, no threat silence, invariably answered "Yes."

But chief among the cares that beset her was one that grew more burdensome with thought. By her own will she had put her liberty into another's keeping; law confirmed the act, gospel sanctioned the vow, and it could only be redeemed by paying the costly price demanded of those who own that they have drawn a blank in the lottery of marriage. Public opinion is a grim ghost that daunts the bravest, and Sylvia knew that trials lay before her from which she would shrink and suffer, as only a woman sensitive and proud as she could shrink and suffer. Once apply this remedy and any tongue would have the power to wound, any eye to insult with pity or contempt, any stranger to criticise or condemn, and she would have no means of redress, no place of refuge, even in that stronghold, Adam's heart.

All that dreary day she wrestled with these stubborn facts, but could neither mould nor modify them as she would, and evening found her spent, but not decided. Too excited for sleep, yet too weary for exertion, she turned bedward, hoping that the darkness and the silence of night would bring good counsel, if not rest.

Till now she had shunned the library as one shuns the spot where one has suffered most. But as she passed the open door the gloom that reigned within seemed typical of that which had fallen on its absent master, and following the impulse of the moment Sylvia went in to light it with the little glimmer of her lamp. Nothing had been touched, for no hand but her own preserved the order of this room, and all household duties had been neglected on that day. The old chair stood where she had left it, and over its arm was thrown the velvet coat, half dressing-gown, half blouse, that Moor liked to wear at this household trysting-place. Sylvia bent to fold it smoothly as it hung, and feeling that she must solace herself with some touch of tenderness, laid her cheek against the soft garment, whispering "Good night." Something glittered on the cushion of the chair, and looking nearer she found a steel-clasped book, upon the cover of which lay a dead heliotrope, a little key.

It was Moor's Diary, and now she understood that passage of the note which had been obscure before. "I leave that behind me which will speak to you more kindly, calmly, than I can now, and show you that my effort has been equal to my failure." She had often begged to read it, threatened to pick the lock, and felt the strongest curiosity to learn what was contained in the long entries that he daily made. Her requests had always been answered with the promise of entire possession of the book when the year was out. Now he gave it, though the year was not gone, and many leaves were yet unfilled. He thought she would come to this room first, would see her morning flower laid ready for her, and, sitting in what they called their Refuge, would draw some comfort for herself, some palliation for his innocent offence, from the record so abruptly ended.

She took it, went away to her own room, unlocked the short romance of his wedded life, and found her husband's heart laid bare before her.

It was a strange and solemn thing to look so deeply into the private experience of a fellow-being; to trace the birth and progress of purposes and passions, the motives of action, the secret aspirations, the besetting sins that made up the inner life he had been leading beside her. Moor wrote with an eloquent sincerity, because he had put himself into his book, as if feeling the need of some _confidante_ he had chosen the only one that pardons egotism. Here, too, Sylvia saw her chameleon self, etched with loving care, endowed with all gifts and graces, studied with unflagging zeal, and made the idol of a life.

Often a tuneful spirit seemed to assert itself, and passing from smooth prose to smoother poetry, sonnet, song, or psalm, flowed down the page in cadences stately, sweet, or solemn, filling the reader with delight at the discovery of a gift so genuine, yet so shyly folded up within itself, unconscious that its modesty was the surest token of its worth. More than once Sylvia laid her face into the book, and added her involuntary comment on some poem or passage made pathetic by the present; and more than once paused to wonder, with exceeding wonder, why she could not give such genius and affection its reward. Had she needed any confirmation of the fact so hard to teach herself, this opening of his innermost would have given it. For while she bitterly grieved over the death-blow she had dealt his happy hope, it no longer seemed a possibility to change her stubborn heart, or lessen by a fraction the debt which she sadly felt could only be repaid in friendship's silver, not love's gold.

All night she lay there like some pictured Magdalene, purer but as penitent as Correggio's Mary, with the book, the lamp, the melancholy eyes, the golden hair that painters love. All night she read, gathering courage, not consolation, from those pages, for seeing what she was not showed her what she might become; and when she turned the little key upon that story without an end, Sylvia the girl was dead, but Sylvia the woman had begun to live.

Lying in the rosy hush of dawn, there came to her a sudden memory--

"If ever you need help that Geoffrey cannot give, remember cousin Faith."

This was the hour Faith foresaw; Moor had gone to her with his trouble, why not follow, and let this woman, wise, discreet, and gentle, show her what should come next?

The newly risen sun saw Sylvia away upon her journey to Faith's home among the hills. She lived alone, a cheerful, busy, solitary soul, demanding little of others, yet giving freely to whomsoever asked an alms of her.

Sylvia found the gray cottage nestled in a hollow of the mountain side; a pleasant hermitage, secure and still. Mistress and maid composed the household, but none of the gloom of isolation darkened the sunshine that pervaded it; peace seemed to sit upon its threshold, content to brood beneath its eaves, and the atmosphere of home to make it beautiful.

When some momentous purpose or event absorbs us we break through fears and formalities, act out ourselves forgetful of reserve, and use the plainest phrases to express emotions which need no ornament and little aid from language. Sylvia illustrated this fact, then; for, without hesitation or embarrassment, she entered Miss Dane's door, called no servant to announce her, but went, as if by instinct, straight to the room where Faith sat alone, and with the simplest greeting asked--

"Is Geoffrey here?"

"He was an hour ago, and will be an hour hence. I sent him out to rest, for he cannot sleep. I am glad you came to him; he has not learned to do without you yet."

With no bustle of surprise or sympathy Faith put away her work, took off the hat and cloak, drew her guest beside her on the couch before the one deep window looking down the valley, and gently chafing the chilly hands in warm ones, said nothing more till Sylvia spoke.

"He has told you all the wrong I have done him?"

"Yes, and found a little comfort here. Do you need consolation also?"

"Can you ask? But I need something more, and no one can give it to me so well as you. I want to be set right, to hear things called by their true names, to be taken out of myself and made to see why I am always doing wrong while trying to do well."

"Your father, sister, or brother are fitter for that task than I. Have you tried them?"

"No, and I will not. They love me, but they could not help me; for they would beg me to conceal if I cannot forget, to endure if I cannot conquer, and abide by my mistake at all costs. That is not the help I want. I desire to know the one just thing to be done, and to be made brave enough to do it, though friends lament, gossips clamor, and the heavens fall. I am in earnest now. Rate me sharply, drag out my weaknesses, shame my follies, show no mercy to my selfish hopes; and when I can no longer hide from myself put me in the way I should go, and I will follow it though my feet bleed at every step."

She was in earnest now, terribly so, but still Faith drew back, though her compassionate face belied her hesitating words.

"Go to Adam; who wiser or more just than he?"

"I cannot. He, as well as Geoffrey, loves me too well to decide for me. You stand between them, wise as the one, gentle as the other, and you do not care for me enough to let affection hoodwink reason. Faith, you bade me come; do not cast me off, for if you shut your heart against me I know not where to go."

Despairing she spoke, disconsolate she looked, and Faith's reluctance vanished. The maternal aspect returned, her voice resumed its warmth, her eye its benignity, and Sylvia was reassured before a word was spoken.

"I do not cast you off, nor shut my heart against you. I only hesitated to assume such responsibility, and shrunk from the task because of compassion, not coldness. Sit here, and tell me all your trouble, Sylvia?"

"That is so kind! It seems quite natural to turn to you as if I had a claim upon you. Let me have, and if you can, love me a little, because I have no mother, and need one very much."

"My child, you shall not need one any more."

"I feel that, and am comforted already. Faith, if you were me, and stood where I stand, beloved by two men, either of whom any woman might be proud to call husband, putting self away, to which should you cleave?"

"To neither."

Sylvia paled and trembled, as if the oracle she had invoked was an unanswerable voice pronouncing the inevitable. She watched Faith's countenance a moment, groping for her meaning, failed to find it, and whispered below her breath--

"Can I know why?"

"Because your husband is, your lover _should_ be your friend and nothing more. You have been hardly taught the lesson many have to learn, that friendship cannot fill love's place, yet should be kept inviolate, and served as an austerer mistress who can make life very beautiful to such as feel her worth and deserve her delights. Adam taught me this, for though Geoffrey took you from him, he still held fast his friend, letting no disappointment sour, no envy alienate, no resentment destroy the perfect friendship years of mutual fidelity have built up between them."

"Yes!" cried Sylvia, "how I have honored Adam for that steadfastness, and how I have despised myself, because I could not be as wise and faithful in the earlier, safer sentiment I felt for Geoffrey."

"Be wise and faithful now; cease to be the wife, but remain the friend; freely give all you can with honesty, not one jot more."

"Never did man possess a truer friend than I will be to him--if he will let me. But, Faith, if I may be that to Geoffrey, may I not be something nearer and dearer to Adam? Would not you dare to hope it, were you me?"

"No, Sylvia, never."

"Why not?"

"If you were blind, a cripple, or cursed with some incurable infirmity of body, would not you hesitate to bind yourself and your affliction to another?"

"You know I should not only hesitate, but utterly refuse."

"I do know it, therefore I venture to show you why, according to my belief, you should not marry Adam. I cannot tell you as I ought, but only try to show you where to seek the explanation of my seeming harsh advice. There are diseases more subtle and dangerous than any that vex our flesh; diseases that should be as carefully cured if curable, as inexorably prevented from spreading as any malady we dread. A paralyzed will, a morbid mind, a mad temper, a tainted heart, a blind soul, are afflictions to be as much regarded as bodily infirmities. Nay, more, inasmuch as souls are of greater value than perishable flesh. Where this is religiously taught, believed, and practised, marriage becomes in truth a sacrament blessed of God; children thank parents for the gift of life; parents see in children living satisfactions and rewards, not reproaches or retributions doubly heavy to be borne, for the knowledge that where two sinned, many must inevitably suffer."

"You try to tell me gently, Faith, but I see that you consider me one of the innocent unfortunates, who have no right to marry till they be healed, perhaps never. I have dimly felt this during the past year, now I know it, and thank God that I have no child to reproach me hereafter, for bequeathing it the mental ills I have not yet outlived."

"Dear Sylvia, you are an exceptional case in all respects, because an extreme one. The ancient theology of two contending spirits in one body, is strangely exemplified in you, for each rules by turns, and each helps or hinders as moods and circumstances lead. Even in the great event of a woman's life, you were thwarted by conflicting powers; impulse and ignorance, passion and pride, hope and despair. Now you stand at the parting of the ways, looking wistfully along the pleasant one where Adam seems to beckon, while I point down the rugged one where I have walked, and though my heart aches as I do it, counsel you as I would a daughter of my own."

"I thank you, I will follow you, but my life looks very barren if I must relinquish my desire."

"Not as barren as if you possessed your desire, and found in it another misery and mistake. Could you have loved Geoffrey, it might have been safe and well with you; loving Adam, it is neither. Let me show you why. He is an exception like yourself; perhaps that explains your attraction for each other. In him the head rules, in Geoffrey the heart. The one criticises, the other loves mankind. Geoffrey is proud and private in all that lies nearest him, clings to persons, and is faithful as a woman. Adam has only the pride of an intellect which tests all things, and abides by its own insight. He clings to principles; persons are but animated facts or ideas; he seizes, searches, uses them, and when they have no more for him, drops them like the husk, whose kernel he has secured; passing on to find and study other samples without regret, but with unabated zeal. For life to him is perpetual progress, and he obeys the law of his nature as steadily as sun or sea. Is not this so?"

"All true; what more, Faith?"

"Few women, if wise, would dare to marry this man, noble and love-worthy as he is, till time has tamed and experience developed him. Even then the risk is great, for he demands and unconsciously absorbs into himself the personality of others, making large returns, but of a kind which only those as strong, sagacious, and steadfast as himself can receive and adapt to their individual uses, without being overcome and possessed. That none of us should be, except by the Spirit stronger than man, purer than woman. You feel, though you do not understand this power. You know that his presence excites, yet wearies you; that, while you love, you fear him, and even when you long to be all in all to him, you doubt your ability to make his happiness. Am I not right?"

"I must say, yes."

"Then, it is scarcely necessary for me to tell you that I think this unequal marriage would be but a brief one for you; bright at its beginning, dark at its end. With him you would exhaust yourself in passionate endeavors to follow where he led. He would not know this, you would not confess it, but too late you might both learn that you were too young, too ardent, too frail in all but the might of love, to be his wife. It is like a woodbird mating with an eagle, straining its little wings to scale the sky with him, blinding itself with gazing at the sun, striving to fill and warm the wild eyrie which becomes its home, and perishing in the stern solitude the other loves. Yet, too fond and faithful to regret the safer nest among the grass, the gentler mate it might have had, the summer life and winter flitting to the south for which it was designed."

"Faith, you frighten me; you seem to see and show me all the dim forebodings I have hidden away within myself, because I could not understand or dared not face them. How have you learned so much? How can you read me so well? and who told you these things of us all?"

"I had an unhappy girlhood in a discordant home; early cares and losses made me old in youth, and taught me to observe how others bore their burdens. Since then solitude has led me to study and reflect upon the question toward which my thoughts inevitably turned. Concerning yourself and your past Geoffrey told me much but Adam more."

"Have you seen him? Has he been here? When, Faith, when?"

Light and color flashed back into Sylvia's face, and the glad eagerness of her voice was a pleasant sound to hear after the despairing accents gone before. Faith sighed, but answered fully, carefully, while the compassion of her look deepened as she spoke.

"I saw him but a week ago, vehement and vigorous as ever. He has come hither often during the winter, has watched you unseen, and brought me news of you which made Geoffrey's disclosure scarcely a surprise. He said you bade him hear of you through me, that he preferred to come, not write, for letters were often false interpreters, but face to face one gets the real thought of one's friend by look, as well as word, and the result is satisfactory."

"That is Adam! But what more did he say? How did you advise him? I know he asked counsel of you, as we all have done."

"He did, and I gave it as frankly as to you and Geoffrey. He made me understand you, judge you leniently, see in you the virtues you have cherished despite drawbacks such as few have to struggle with. Your father made Adam his confessor during the happy month when you first knew him. I need not tell you how he received and preserved such a trust. He betrayed no confidence, but in speaking of you I saw that his knowledge of the father taught him to understand the daughter. It was well and beautifully done, and did we need anything to endear him to us this trait of character would do it, for it is a rare endowment, the power of overcoming all obstacles of pride, age, and the sad reserve self-condemnation brings us, and making confession a grateful healing."

"I know it; we tell our sorrows to such as Geoffrey, our sins to such as Adam. But, Faith, when you spoke of me, did you say to him what you have been saying to me about my unfitness to be his wife because of inequality, and my unhappy inheritance?"

"Could I do otherwise when he fixed that commanding eye of his upon me asking, 'Is my love as wise as it is warm?' He is one of those who force the hardest truths from us by the simple fact that they can bear it, and would do the same for us. He needed it then, for though instinct was right,--hence his anxious question,--his heart, never so entirely roused as now, made it difficult for him to judge of your relations to one another, and there my woman's insight helped him."

"What did he do when you told him? I see that you will yet hesitate to tell me. I think you have been preparing me to hear it. Speak out. Though my cheeks whiten and my hands tremble I can bear it, for you shall be the law by which I will abide."

"You shall be a law to yourself, my brave Sylvia. Put your hands in mine and hold fast to the friend who loves and honors you for this. I will tell you what Adam did and said. He sat in deep thought many minutes; but with him to see is to do, and soon he turned to me with the courageous expression which in him signifies that the fight is fought, the victory won. 'It is necessary to be just, it is not necessary to be happy. I shall never marry Sylvia, even if I may,'--and with that paraphrase of words, whose meaning seemed to fit his need, he went away. I think he will not come again either to me--or you."

How still the room grew as Faith's reluctant lips uttered the last words! Sylvia sat motionless looking out into the sunny valley, with eyes that saw nothing but the image of that beloved friend leaving her perhaps forever. Well she knew that with this man to see _was_ to do, and with a woeful sense of desolation falling cold upon her heart, she felt that there was nothing more to hope for but a brave submission like his own. Yet in that pause there came a feeling of relief after the first despair. The power of choice was no longer left her, and the help she needed was bestowed by one who could decide against himself, inspired by a sentiment which curbed a strong man's love of power, and made it subject to a just man's love of right. Great examples never lose their virtue; what Pompey was to Warwick that Warwick became to Sylvia, and in the moment of supremest sorrow she felt the fire of a noble emulation kindling within her from the spark he left behind.

"Faith, what comes next?"

"This," and she was gathered close while Faith confessed how hard her task had been by letting tears fall fast upon the head which seemed to have found its proper resting-place, as if despite her courage and her wisdom the woman's heart was half broken with its pity. Better than any words was the motherly embrace, the silent shower, the blessed balm of sympathy which soothed the wounds it could not heal. Leaning against each other the two hearts talked together in the silence, feeling the beauty of the tie kind Nature weaves between the hearts that should be knit. Faith often turned her lips to Sylvia's forehead, brushed back her hair with a lingering touch, and drew her nearer as if it was very pleasant to see and feel the little creature in her arms. Sylvia lay there, tearless and tranquil; thinking thoughts for which she had no words, and trying to prepare herself for the life to come, a life that now looked very desolate. Her eye still rested on the valley where the river flowed, the elms waved their budding boughs in the bland air, and the meadows wore their earliest tinge of green. But she was not conscious of these things till the sight of a solitary figure coming slowly up the hill recalled her to the present and the duties it still held for her.

"Here is Geoffrey! How wearily he walks,--how changed and old he looks,--oh, why was I born to be a curse to all who love me!"

"Hush, Sylvia, say anything but that, because it casts reproach upon your father. Your life is but just begun; make it a blessing, not a curse, as all of us have power to do; and remember that for every affliction there are two helpers, who can heal or end the heaviest we know--Time and Death. The first we may invoke and wait for; the last God alone can send when it is better not to live."

"I will try to be patient. Will you meet and tell Geoffrey what has passed? I have no strength left but for passive endurance."

Faith went; Sylvia heard the murmur of earnest conversation; then steps came rapidly along the hall, and Moor was in the room. She rose involuntarily, but for a moment neither spoke, for never had they met as now. Each regarded the other as if a year had rolled between them since they parted, and each saw in the other the changes that one day had wrought. Neither the fire of resentment nor the frost of pride now rendered Moor's face stormy or stern. Anxious and worn it was, with newly graven lines upon the forehead and melancholy curves about the mouth, but the peace of a conquered spirit touched it with a pale serenity, and some perennial hope shone in the glance he bent upon his wife. For the first time in her life Sylvia was truly beautiful,--not physically, for never had she looked more weak and wan, but spiritually, as the inward change made itself manifest in an indescribable expression of meekness and of strength. With suffering came submission, with repentance came regeneration, and the power of the woman yet to be, touched with beauty the pathos of the woman now passing through the fire.

"Faith has told you what has passed between us, and you know that my loss is a double one," she said. "Let me add that I deserve it, that I clearly see my mistakes, will amend such as I can, bear the consequences of such as are past help, try to profit by all, and make no new ones. I cannot be your wife, I ought not to be Adam's; but I may be myself, may live my life alone, and being friends with both wrong neither. This is my decision; in it I believe, by it I will abide, and if it be a just one God will not let me fail."

"I submit, Sylvia; I can still hope and wait."

So humbly he said it, so heartily he meant it, she felt that his love was as indomitable as Warwick's will, and the wish that it were right and possible to accept and reward it woke with all its old intensity. It was not possible; and though her heart grew heavier within her, Sylvia answered steadily--

"No, Geoffrey, do not hope, do not wait; forgive me and forget me. Go abroad as you proposed; travel far and stay long away. Change your life, and learn to see in me only the friend I once was and still desire to be."

"I will go, will stay till you recall me, but while you live your life alone I shall still hope and wait."

This invincible fidelity, so patient, so persistent, impressed the listener like a prophecy, disturbed her conviction, arrested the words upon her lips and softened them.

"It is not for one so unstable as myself to say, 'I shall never change.' I do not say it, though I heartily believe it, but will leave all to time. Surely I may do this; may let separation gently, gradually convince you or alter me; and as the one return which I can make for all you have given me, let this tie between us remain unbroken for a little longer. Take this poor consolation with you; it is the best that I can offer now. Mine is the knowledge that however I may thwart your life in this world, there is a beautiful eternity in which you will forget me and be happy."

She gave him comfort, but he robbed her of her own as he drew her to him, answering with a glance brighter than any smile--

"Love is immortal, dear, and even in the 'beautiful eternity' I shall still hope and wait."

* * * * *

How soon it was all over! the return to separate homes, the disclosures, and the storms; the preparations for the solitary voyage, the last charges and farewells.

Mark would not, and Prue could not, go to see the traveller off; the former being too angry to lend his countenance to what he termed a barbarous banishment, the latter, being half blind with crying, stayed to nurse Jessie, whose soft heart was nearly broken at what seemed to her the most direful affliction under heaven.

But Sylvia and her father followed Moor till his foot left the soil, and still lingered on the wharf to watch the steamer out of port. An uncongenial place in which to part; carriages rolled up and down, a clamor of voices filled the air, the little steamtug snorted with impatience, and the waves flowed seaward with the ebbing of the tide. But father and daughter saw only one object, heard only one sound, Moor's face as it looked down upon them from the deck, Moor's voice as he sent cheery messages to those left behind. Mr. Yule was endeavoring to reply as cheerily, and Sylvia was gazing with eyes that saw very dimly through their tears, when both were aware of an instantaneous change in the countenance they watched. Something beyond themselves seemed to arrest Moor's eye; a moment he stood intent and motionless, then flushed to the forehead with the dark glow Sylvia remembered well, waved his hand to them and vanished down the cabin stairs.

"Papa, what did he see?"

There was no need of any answer; Adam Warwick came striding through the crowd, saw them, paused with both hands out, and a questioning glance as if uncertain of his greeting. With one impulse the hands were taken; Sylvia could not speak, her father could, and did approvingly--

"Welcome, Warwick; you are come to say good by to Geoffrey?"

"Rather to you, sir; he needs none, I go with him."

"With him!" echoed both hearers.

"Ay, that I will. Did you think I would let him go away alone feeling bereaved of wife, and home, and friend?"

"We should have known you better. But, Warwick, he will shun you; he hid himself just now as you approached; he has tried to forgive, but he cannot so soon forget."

"All the more need of my helping him to do both. He cannot shun me long with no hiding-place to fly to but the sea, and I will so gently constrain him by the old-time love we bore each other, that he must relent and take me back into his heart again."

"Oh, Adam! go with him, stay with him, and bring him safely back to me when time has helped us all."

"I shall do it, God willing."

Unmindful of all else Warwick bent and took her to him as he gave the promise, seemed to put his whole heart into a single kiss and left her trembling with the stress of his farewell. She saw him cleave his way through the throng, leap the space left by the gangway just withdrawn, and vanish in search of that lost friend. Then she turned her face to her father's shoulder, conscious of nothing but the fact that Warwick had come and gone.

A cannon boomed, the crowd cheered, the last cable was flung off, and the steamer glided from her moorings with the surge of water and the waft of wind like some sea-monster eager to be out upon the ocean free again.

"Look up, Sylvia; she will soon pass from sight."

"Are they there?"


"Then I do not care to see. Look for me, father, and tell me when they come."

"They will not come, dear; both have said good by, and we have seen the last of them for many a long day."

"They will come! Adam will bring Geoffrey to show me they are friends again. I know it; you shall see it. Lift me to that block and watch the deck with me that we may see them the instant they appear."

Up she sprung, eyes clear now, nerves steady, faith strong. Leaning forward so utterly forgetful of herself, she would have fallen into the green water tumbling there below, had not her father held her fast. How slowly the minutes seemed to pass, how rapidly the steamer seemed to glide away, how heavily the sense of loss weighed on her heart as wave after wave rolled between her and her heart's desire.

"Come down, Sylvia, it is giving yourself useless pain to watch and wait. Come home, my child, and let us comfort one another."

She did not hear him, for as he spoke the steamer swung slowly round to launch itself into the open bay, and with a cry that drew many eyes upon the young figure with its face of pale expectancy, Sylvia saw her hope fulfilled.

"I knew they would come! See, father, see! Geoffrey is smiling as he waves his handkerchief, and Adam's hand is on his shoulder. Answer them! oh, answer them! I can only look."

The old man did answer them enthusiastically, and Sylvia stretched her arms across the widening space as if to bring them back again. Side by side the friends stood now; Moor's eye upon his wife, while from his hand the little flag of peace streamed in the wind. But Warwick's glance was turned upon his friend, and Warwick's hand already seemed to claim the charge he had accepted.

Standing thus they passed from sight, never to come sailing home together as the woman on the shore was praying God to let her see them come.

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