Densdeth’s Dark Room Edit
We were now upon the pavements. Conversation ceased. The broad facts had been stated. The myriad details must wait for quieter hours. We were grave and expectant, for in the mind of each was an unspoken dread that all our sorrow was not over.
Churm drove hard. It was chilly sunset, a melancholy lurid twilight of March, when we turned out of Mannering Place and drew up in front of Chrysalis. Alternate thaw and freezing had fouled the snow in Ailanthus Square. It lay in patches, streaked with dirt of the city, and between was the sodden grass, all trampled uneven and stiffening now with the evening frost.
“The world never looked so dreary,” said I.
“This is the very end of bitter winter” said Cecil; “let us hope now for brighter spring at hand. We will create it in ourselves.”
“Yes,” said Churm, whistling for his groom. “We must not let forlornness come upon us now, after this great mercy of my child’s return. Byng, you had better take your friend Cecil Dreeme up to your palace-chamber, while I go round to the Minedurt, with Locksley, and have dinner brought. We all need it, after the drive and the day.”
Dreeme and I climbed the broad staircase. We walked those few steps along the corridor to my door. It was almost dusk. As we passed the door of Densdeth’s dark room, each was conscious anew how death had freed the world from that demon influence. We seemed to breathe freer.
We entered my great chamber. It was already sombre with the shades of evening. Only a dim light came through the mullioned and trefoiled windows. I established my guest in an arm-chair. She dropped the hood of her cloak. I smiled to notice the masculine effect of her crisp curling black hair. She perceived my feeling, and smiled also. A quiet domestic feeling seemed to grow up between us. I busied myself in reviving the fire from its ashes.
Cecil sat silent. Neither was yet at home in our new relation. I made occupation, to fill a silence I shrank from breaking with words, by examining the letter-box at my door.
There was the evening paper in the box. To-morrow it would be filled with staring capitals, and all this sorry business of the execution of Densdeth and the exposing of Huffmire.
There were sundry cards in the box; cards of lounging men about town, who had come to kill a half-hour at my expense; a card from a friend of Stillfleet’s from Boston, asking permission to recover his dress coat and waistcoat, deposited in some drawer of Rubbish Palace when he came last a-wooing; a card from Madame de Nigaud, with — “Oysters and Frezzaniga at ten. Come, or I cut you!” — cards to the balls after Lent; a tailor’s bill; a club notice; a ticket for a private view of Sion’s new statue of Purity.
There was also a billet addressed to me in a hand I seemed to know.
“There is what the world had to say to me this afternoon,” I said, handing the cards to Cecil Dreeme.
I walked toward the window for more light to read my billet; also to hide my face while I read. For I knew the hand of the address.
It was Emma Denman’s.
It cost me a strong effort to tear open that slight missive. I knew not what I dreaded; but I was aware of a miserable terror, lest the sister should come between me and Cecil Dreeme, blighting both.
So I opened the letter, and began to read it, with hasty intentness, by that dim light through the narrow windows. Presently, as I divined its inner meaning, and anticipated some sorrowful, some pitiful confession at the close, I read more slowly, not to lose the significance of a word. The light faded rapidly, and each syllable was harder to decipher; and yet each, as I comprehended it, seemed to trail away and write itself anew on the dimness before me, in ineffaceable letters of fire.
This was the letter.
- “Robert, good-bye! I could not see you face to face again, — I that have almost betrayed you with my sin.
- “But you shall be safe from any further treachery of mine, and for the deep dread I have of myself, lest I again become a traitor to some trusting soul, I shall put any further evil work in this world out of my power.
- “I tried — God knows I tried for myself and you — to keep away from between us any other sentiment than liking and simple good-will. But I could not withhold myself from loving you. It was my destiny first to be taught what love meant through you, and so to learn that I must never hope for love — for true love — in this waste misery of my ruined earthly life. I could not check you from loving me with that hesitating love you have given. I knew, Robert! I knew why you could not love me with frank abandonment. I felt the want in myself you dimly and far away perceived. I was conscious in my whole being of the taint that repelled you.
- “And yet sometimes — forgive me, for I hate myself, I loathe myself — I was willing to accept the success of my lie, my acted lie. I knew my power over you, and saw that it was greater because you had a doubt to overcome. Alas for me for such dishonor! But I yielded to the sweet delusion that I could repair the past, that by future truth to you I could annihilate the falsehood in me, upon which any love of yours must be based.
- “And then, too, Robert, — for such is the cruel despotism of deceit, — I have found a base joy in my power to charm you, so that you forgot everything in my society. I have even felt a baser pleasure in keeping higher and holier aspirations away from your soul, lest you should become too sensitive, and so know me too well. Ah, how terrible is this corruption of a hidden sin! It has made me the foe of purity, eager to drag others down to my level.
- “And yet I have agonized against it. More steadily, Robert, since you came. Why did you not come years ago? Why were you ever away? I do not feel my nature wholly base. It seems to me that I might have been noble, if I had been guarded better in the innocent days. But I will be guarded, self-guarded, when this life I loathe is past, and that other life begun, with all my stern experience.
- “You will not despise me. I know that it is braver to speak than to be silent; and then this struggle to be true with you helps me in the greater struggle to be true with God. Do not despise me, Robert! I saw what was in your mind when we parted. It is so. I might deceive you now. I might trifle away your suspicions; I might repel them with indignation. I will not. They are just.
- “It is said. I shall die happier. I must die. I cannot trust myself. I cannot bear to act my daily lie before the world. I might again deceive, and again see the same misery in another I have seen in you, — again see a look of love grow cold, — again see doubt creep in and murder faith. I cannot trust myself. I might love you with all my heart, and yet go miserably yielding to a temptation. And so good-bye to my life, and all my womanly hopes!
- “Ah Robert, if I could but have escaped that prying spirit of evil, — that one fatal being who mastered me with the first look, who saw the small germ of a bad tendency in me, and nurtured it!
- “But do not believe that I was to be so base as it may seem to my sister. I did not love her ever. Her nature was a constant reproach to mine. But I should have saved her from the infamy of her marriage. I should, — O yes! I thank God that I had emancipated myself enough for that. I should have saved her; but while I was struggling with my dread of shame, my pride, and all the misery of an avowal, while I was weeping and praying, and gaining strength to be as sisterly as I could be so late, — she was drowning! And so her sweet, innocent life perished, and the fault was mine, — the fault was mine, that I had not long before told her such a marriage would be sacrilege.
- “I have had a bitter burden to bear since then, — a wearing weight of repentance. Ah! if my sister could have lived, I might have shown her that I was worthy of her love. I might have wrought her to forget those years of alienation, — all my fault, and never fault of hers, — my noble, hapless sister! A heavy burden of shame and self-disgust! And heavier, heavier, since you came; — heavier, because, as I have learned to know what true love means, and to despair of ever being worthy of it, the reaction of hopelessness has almost driven me to utter self-abandonment, and that miserable comfort of recklessness. And so I die, lest I might fail my nobler nature, and pass into the ranks of the tempters.
- “My father will not miss me. You will think pityingly of me, Robert. It is not for a dread of a lonely and sorrowful life that I die, but to save others from the contamination of my sin.
- “I shall not sully this innocent roof with my death. I die in a place where I have the right to enter. My death there shall atone for my crime there. It is near you, Robert, and I could wish, if you can forgive and pity me, that you first would find me, in the dark room next to yours, and be a little tender with the corpse my purified spirit will have abandoned. Good-bye!
- “EMMA DENMAN.”
“Oh, Cecil!” I cried, “your sister!”
I sprang toward the door of my lumber-room. Beside it stood a suit of ancient armor, staring with eyeless eyes, and in its iron fingers it held a heavy mace of steel, — a terrible weapon, with its head studded with spikes, and rusty with old stains, perhaps of Paynim blood. I snatched it, drew my bolts, and smote with all my force at the inner lock of the door of Densdeth’s dark room.
A few such blows, the fastenings tore away, and the door flung open. I entered, and Cecil Dreeme was at my side.
It was a small room, but lofty as mine. By that faint light of impeded twilight, coming through my narrow windows, I could see that its furniture was a very dream of luxury.
But it was not the place that we noticed, — for there in the dimness we could discern the figure of a woman, seated in an arm-chair, gazing at us with a pale, dead face.
“Emma, Emma!” cried Cecil Dreeme.
She did not speak, — that dead form had given up its last words in the letter to me. The sickly odor of a deadly drug filled the room, mingling with the perfume I had noticed. She seemed to have been some hours dead, and sitting there alone, unforgiven by man.
We stood looking at her. It was pitiful. Her beauty wasted thus! Her life self-condemned to this drear death, lest her soul perish with the taint of sin!
I kissed her forehead; then pressed my lips chilled to Cecil’s cheek.
“She is our sister, Cecil,” I whispered.
“Our sister, Robert, — our sister, forgiven and beloved.”
And so with clasped hands we knelt beside our sister, and in silence prayed for strength in the great battle with sin and sorrow, through the solemn days of our life together.