By F. J. Stimson.
I WAS born and lived, until I came to this university, in a small town in Maine. My father was a graduate of —— College, and had never wholly dissolved his connection with that place; probably because he was there not unfavorably known to more acquaintances, and better people, than he elsewhere found. The town is one of those gentle-mannered, ferocious-minded, white wooden villages common to Maine; with two churches, a brick town-hall, a stucco lyceum, a narrow railway station, and a spacious burying- ground. It is divided into two classes of society: one which institutes church-sociables, church-dances, church-sleighing parties; which twice a week, and critically, listens to a long and ultra-Protestant, almost mundane, essay-sermon; and which comes to town with, and takes social position from, pastoral letters of introduction, that are dated in other places and exhibited like marriage certificates. I have known the husbands at times get their business employments on the strength of such encyclicals (but the ventures of these were not rarely attended with financial disaster, so passports only hinder honest travellers); the other class falling rather into Shakespeare clubs, intensely free-thinking, but calling Sabbath Sunday, and pretending to the slightly higher social position of the two. This is Maine, as I knew it; it may have changed since. Both classes were in general Prohibitionists, but the latter had wine to drink at home.
In this town were many girls with pretty faces; there, under that cold, concise sky of the North, they grew up; their intellects preternaturally acute, their nervous systems strung to breaking pitch, their physical growth so backward that at twenty their figures would be flat. We were intimate with them in a mental fellowship. Not that we boys of twenty did not have our preferences, but they were preferences of mere companionship; so that the magnanimous confidence of English America was justified; and anyone of us could be alone with her he preferred from morn to midnight, if he chose, and no one be the wiser or the worse. But there was one exceptional girl in B——, Althea Hardy. Her father was a rich ship-builder; and his father, a sea-captain, had married her grandmother in Catania, island of Sicily. With Althea Hardy, I think, I was in love.
Tn the winter of my second year at college there came to town a certain Dr. Materialismus—a German professor, scientist, socialist—ostensibly seeking employment as a German instructor at the college; practising hypnotism, magnetism, mesmerism, and mysticism; giving lectures on Hegel, believing in Hartmann, and in the indestructibility of matter and the destructibility of the soul; and his soul was a damned one, and he cared not for the loss of it.
Not that I knew this, then; I also was fascinated by him, I suppose. There was something so bold about his intellectuality, that excited my admiration. Althea and I used to dispute about it; she said she did not like the man. In my enthusiasm, I raved to her of him; and then, I suppose, I talked to him of her more than I should have done. Mind you, I had no thought of marriage then; nor, of course, of love. Althea was my most intimate friend—as a boy might have been. Sex differences were fused in the clear flame of the intellect. And B—— College itself was a co-educational institution.
The first time they met was at a coasting party; on a night of glittering cold, when the sky was dusty azure and the stars burned like blue fires. I had a double-runner, with Althea; and I asked the professor to come with us, as he was unused to the sport, and I feared lest he should be laughed at. I, of course, sat in front and steered the sled; then came Althea; then he; and it was his duty to steady her, his hands upon her waist.
We went down three times with no word spoken. The girls upon the other sleds would cry with exultation as they sped down the long hill; but Althea was silent. On the long walk up—it was nearly a mile—the professor and I talked; but I remember only one thing he said. Pointing to a singularly red star, he told us that two worlds were burning there, with people in them; they had lately rushed together, and, from planets, had become one burning sun. I asked him how he knew; it was all chemistry, he said. Althea said, how terrible it was to think of such a day of judgment on that quiet night; and he laughed a little, in his silent way, and said she was rather too late with her pity, for it had all happened some eighty years ago. "I don't see that you cry for Marie Antoinette," he said; "but that red ray you see left the star in 1789."
We left Althea at her home, and the professor asked me down to his. He lived in a strange place; the upper floor of a warehouse, upon a business street, low down in the town, above the Kennebec. He told me that he had hired it for the power; and I remembered to have noticed there a sign "To Let—One Floor, with Power." And sure enough, below the loud rush of the river, and the crushing noise made by the cakes of ice that passed over the falls, was a pulsing tremor in the house, more striking than a noise; and in the loft of his strange apartment rushed an endless band of leather, swift and silent. "It's furnished by the river," he said, "and not by steam. I thought it might be useful for some physical experiments."
The upper floor, which the doctor had rented, consisted mainly of a long loft for manufacturing, and a square room beyond it, formerly the counting-room. We had passed through the loft first (through which ran the spinning leather band), and I had noticed a forest of glass rods along the wall, but massed together like the pipes of an organ, and opposite them a row of steel bars like levers. "A mere physical experiment," said the doctor, as we sank into couches covered with white fur, in his inner apartment. Strangely disguised, the room in the old factory loft, hung with silk and furs, glittering with glass and gilding; there was no mirror, however, but, in front of me, one large picture. It represented a fainting anchorite, wan and yellow beneath his single sheepskin cloak, his eyes closing, the crucifix he was bearing just fallen in the desert sand; supporting him, the arms of a beautiful woman, roseate with perfect health, with laughing, clear eyes resting on his wearied lids. I never had seen such a room; it realized what I had fancied of those sensuous, evil Trianons of the older and corrupt world.
"You admire the picture?" said Materialismus. "I painted it; she was my model." I am conscious to-day that I looked at him with a jealous envy, like some hungry beast. I had never seen such a woman. He laughed silently, and going to the wall touched what I supposed to be a bell. Suddenly my feelings changed.
"Your Althea Hardy," went on the doctor, "who is she?"
"She is not my Althea Hardy," I replied, with an indignation that I then supposed unreasoning. "She is the daughter of a retired sea-captain, and I see her because she alone can rank me in the class. Our minds are sympathetic. And Miss Hardy has a noble soul."
"She has a fair body," answered he; "of that much we are sure."
I cast a fierce look upon the man; my eye followed his to that picture on the wall; and some false shame kept me foolishly silent. I should have spoken then. … But many such fair carrion must strew the path of so lordly a vulture as this doctor was; unlucky if they thought (as he knew better) that aught of soul they bore entangled in their flesh.
"You do not strain a morbid consciousness about a chemical reaction," said he. "Two atoms rush together to make a world, or burn one, as we saw last night; it may be pleasure or it may be pain; conscious organs choose the former."
My distaste for the man was such that I hurried away, and went to sleep with a strange sadness, in the mood in which, as I suppose, believers pray; but that I was none. Dr. Materialismus had had a plum-colored velvet smoking-jacket on, with a red fez (he was a sort of beau), and I dreamed of it all night, and of the rushing leather band, and of the grinding of the ice in the river. Something made me keep my visit secret from Althea; an evil something, as I think it now.
The following day we had a lecture on light. It was one in a course in physics, or natural philosophy, as it was called in B—— College; just as they called Scotch psychology "Mental Philosophy," with capital letters: it was an archaic little place, and it was the first course that the German doctor had prevailed upon the college government to assign to him. The students sat at desks, ranged around the lecture platform, the floor of the hall being a concentric inclined plane; and Althea Hardy's desk was next to mine. Materialismus began with a brief sketch of the theory of sound; how it consisted in vibrations of the air, the coarsest medium of space, but could not dwell in ether; and how slow beats—blows of a hammer, for instance—had no more complex intellectual effect, but were mere consecutive noises; how the human organism ceased to detect these consecutive noises at about eight per second, until they reappeared at sixteen per second, the lowest tone which can be heard; and how, at something like thirty-two thousand per second these vibrations ceased to be heard, and were supposed unintelligible to humanity, being neither sound nor light—despite their rapid movement, dark and silent. But was all this energy wasted to mankind? Adverting one moment to the molecular, or rather mathematical, theory—first propounded by Democritus, re-established by Leibnitz, and never since denied—that the universe, both of mind and matter, body and soul, was made merely by innumerable, infinitesimal points of motion, endlessly gyrating among themselves—mere points, devoid of materiality, devoid also of soul, but each a centre of a certain force, which scientists entitle gravitation, philosophers deem will, and poets name love—he went on to Light. Light is a subtler emotion (he remarked here that he used the word emotion advisedly, as all emotions were, in substance, alike the subjective result of merely material motion). Light is a subtler emotion, dwelling in ether, but still nothing but a regular continuity of motion or molecular impact; to speak more plainly, successive beats or vibrations reappear intelligible to humanity as light, at something like 483,000,000,000 beats per second in the red ray. More exactly still, they appear first as heat; then as red, orange, yellow, all the colors of the spectrum, until they disappear again, through the violet ray, at something like 727,000,000,000 beats per second in the so-called chemical rays. "After that," he closed, "they are supposed unknown. The higher vibrations are supposed unintelligible to man, just as he fancies there is no more subtle medium than his (already hypothetical) ether. It is possible," said Materialismus, speaking in italics and looking at Althea, "that these higher, almost infinitely rapid vibrations may be what are called the higher emotions or passions—like religion, love, and hate—dwelling in a still more subtle, but yet material, medium, that poets and churches have picturesquely termed heart, conscience, soul." As he said this I too looked at Althea. I saw her bosom heaving; her lips were parted, and a faint rose was in her face. How womanly she was growing!
From that time I felt a certain fierceness against this German doctor. He had a way of patronizing me, of treating me as a man might treat some promising schoolboy, while his manner to Althea was that of an equal—or a man of the world's to a favored lady. It was customary for the professors in B—— College to give little entertainments to their classes once in the winter; these usually took the form of tea-parties; but when it came to the doctor's turn, he gave a sleighing party to the neighboring city of A——, where we had an elaborate banquet at the principal hotel, with champagne to drink; and returned driving down the frozen river, the ice of which Dr. Mismus (for so we called him for short) had had tested for the occasion. The probable expense of this entertainment was discussed in the little town for many weeks after, and was by some estimated as high as two hundred dollars. The professor had hired, besides the large boat-sleigh, many single sleighs, in one of which he had returned, leading the way, and driving with Althea Hardy. It was then I determined to speak to her about her growing intimacy with this man.
I had to wait many weeks for an opportunity. Our winter sports at B—— used to end with a grand evening skating party on the Kennebec. Bonfires were built on the river, the safe mile or two above the falls was roped in with lines of Chinese lanterns, and a supper of hot oysters and coffee was provided at the big central fire. It was the fixed law of the place that the companion invited by any boy was to remain indisputably his for the evening. No second man would ever venture to join himself to a couple who were skating together on that night. I had asked Althea many weeks ahead to skate with me, and she had consented. The Doctor Materialismus knew this.
I, too, saw him nearly every day. He seemed to be fond of my company; of playing chess with me, or discussing metaphysics. Sometimes Althea was present at these arguments, in which I always took the idealistic side. But the little college had only armed me with Bain and Locke and Mill; and it may be imagined what a poor defence I could make with these against the German doctor, with his volumes of metaphysical realism and his knowledge of what Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, and other defenders of us from the flesh could say. Nevertheless, I sometimes appeared to have my victories. Althea was judge; and one day I well remember, when we were discussing the localization of emotion or of volition in the brain:
"Prove to me, if you may, even that every thought and hope and feeling of mankind is accompanied always by the same change in the same part of the cerebral tissue!" cried I. "Yet that physical change is not the soul-passion, but the effect of it upon the body; the mere trace in the brain of its passage, like the furrow of a ship upon the sea." And I looked at Althea, who smiled upon me.
"But if," said the doctor, "by the physical movement I produce the psychical passion? by the change of the brain-atoms cause the act of will? by a mere bit of glass-and-iron mechanism set first in motion, I make the prayer, or thought, or love follow, in plain succession, to the machine's movement, on every soul that comes within its sphere, will you then say that the metaphor of ship and wake is a good one, when it is the wake that precedes the ship?"
"No," said I, smiling.
"Then come to my house to-night," said the doctor; "unless," he added with a sneer, "you are afraid to take such risks before your skating party." And then I saw Althea's lips grow bloodless, and my heart swelled within me.
"I will come," I muttered, without a smile.
"When?" said the professor.
Althea suddenly ran between us. "You will not hurt him?" she said, appealingly to him. "Remember, oh, remember what he has before him!" And here Althea burst into a passion of weeping, and I looked in wild bewilderment from her to him.
"I vill go," said the doctor to me. "I vill leafe you to gonsole her." He spoke in his stronger German accent, and as he went out he beckoned me to the door. His sneer was now a leer, and he said:
"I vould kiss her there, if I vere you."
I slammed the door in his face, and when I turned back to Althea her passion of tears had not ceased, and her beautiful bright hair lay in masses over the poor, shabby desk. I did kiss her, on her soft face where the tears were. I did not dare to kiss her lips, though I think I could have done it before I had known this doctor. She checked her tears at once.
"Now I must go to the doctor's," I said. "Don't be afraid; he can do me or my soul no harm; and remember to-morrow night." I saw Althea's lips blanch again at this; but she looked at me with dry eyes, and I left her.
The winter evening was already dark, and as I went down the streets toward the river I heard the crushing of the ice over the falls. The old street where the doctor lived was quite deserted. Trade had been there in the old days, but now was nothing. Yet in the silence, coming along, I heard the whirr of steam, or, at least, the clanking of machinery and whirling wheels.
I toiled up the crazy staircase. The doctor was already in his room—in the same purple velvet he had worn before. On his study table was a smoking supper.
"I hope," he said, "you have not supped on the way?"
"I have not," I said. Our supper at our college table consisted of tea and cold meat and pie. The doctor's was of oysters, sweetbreads, and wine. After it he gave me an imported cigar, and I sat in his reclining-chair and listened to him.
I remember that this chair reminded me, as I sat there, of a dentist's chair; and I good-naturedly wondered what operations he might perform on me—I helpless, passive with his tobacco and his wine.
"Now I am ready," said he. And he opened the door that led from his study into the old warehouse-room, and I saw him touch one of the steel levers opposite the rows of glass rods. "You see," he said, "my mechanism is a simple one. With all these rods, of different lengths, and the almost infinite speed of revolution that I am able to gife them with the power that comes from the river applied through a chain of belted wheels, is a rosined leather tongue, like that of a music-box or the bow of a violin, touching each one; and so I get any number of beats per second that I will." (He always said will, this man, and never wish.)
"Now, listen," he whispered; and I saw him bend down another lever in the laboratory, and there came a grand bass note—a tone I have heard since only in 32-foot organ pipes. "Now, you see, it is sound." And he placed his hand, as he spoke, upon a small crank or governor; and, as he turned it slowly, note by note the sound grew higher. In the other room I could see one immense wheel, revolving in an endless leather band, with the power that was furnished by the Kennebec, and as each sound rose clear, I saw the wheel turn faster.
Note by note the tones increased in pitch, clear and elemental. I listened, recumbent. There was a marvellous fascination in the strong production of those simple tones.
"You see I hafe no overtones," I heard the doctor say. "All is simple, because it is mechanism. It is the exact reproduction of the requisite mathematical number. I hafe many hundreds of rods of glass, and then the leather band can go so fast as I will, and the tongue acts upon them like the bow upon the violin."
I listened, I was still at peace; all this I could understand, though the notes came strangely clear. Undoubtedly, to get a definite finite number of beats per second was a mere question of mathematics. Empirically, we have always done it, with tuning-forks, organ-pipes, bells.
He was in the middle of the scale already; faster whirled that distant wheel, and the intense tone struck C in alt. I felt a yearning for some harmony, that terrible, simple, single tone was so elemental, so savage; it racked my nerves and strained them to unison, like the rosined bow drawn close against the violin-string itself. It grew intensely shrill; fearfully, piercingly shrill; shrill to the rending-point of the tympanum; and then came silence.
I looked. In the dusk of the adjoining warehouse the huge wheel was whirling more rapidly than ever.
The German professor gazed into my eyes, his own were bright with triumph, on his lips a curl of cynicism. "Now," he said, "you will have what you call emotions. But, first, I must bind you close."
I shrugged my shoulders amiably, smiling with what at the time I thought contempt, while he deftly took a soft white rope and bound me many times to his chair. But the rope was very strong, and I now saw that the framework of the chair was of iron. And even while he bound me, I started as if from a sleep, and became conscious of the dull whirring caused by the powerful machinery that abode within the house, and suddenly a great rage came over me.
I, fool, and this man! I swelled and strained at the soft white ropes that bound me, but in vain. … By God, I could have killed him then and there! And he looked at me and grinned, twisting his face to fit his crooked soul. I strained at the ropes, and I think one of them slipped a bit, for his face blanched; and then I saw him go into that other room and press the last lever back a little, and it seemed to me the wheel revolved more slowly.
Then, in a moment, all was peace again, and it was as if I heard a low, sweet sound, only that there was no sound, but something like what you might dream the music of the spheres to be. He came to my chair again and unbound me.
My momentary passion had vanished. "Light your cigar," he said, "it has gone out." I did so. I had a strange, restful feeling, as of being at one with the world, a sense of peace, between the peace of death and that of sleep.
"This," he said, "is the pulse of the world; and it is Sleep. You remember, in the Nibelung-saga, when Erda, the Earth spirit, is invoked, unwillingly she appears, and then she says, Lass mich schlafen—let me sleep on—to Wotan, king of the gods? Some of the old myths are true enough, though not the Christian ones, most always. … This pulse of the earth seems to you dead science, yet the beats are pulsing thou sands a second faster than the highest sound. … For emotions are subtler things than sound, as you sentimental ones would say; you poets that talk of 'heart' and 'soul'. We men of science say it this way: That those bodily organs that answer to your myth of a soul are but more widely framed, more nicely textured, so as to respond to the impact of a greater number of movements in the second."
While he was speaking he had gone into the other room, and was bending the lever down once more; I flew at his throat. But even before I reached him my motive changed; seizing a Spanish knife that was on the table, I sought to plunge it in my breast. But, with a quick stroke of the elbow, as if he had been prepared for the attempt, he dashed the knife from my hand to the floor, and I sank in despair back into his arm-chair.
"Yes-s," said he, with a sort of hiss of content like a long-drawn sigh of relief. "Yes-s-s—I haf put my mechanik quickly through the Murder-motif without binding you again, after I had put it back to sleep."
"What do you mean?" I said, languidly. How could I ever hope to win Althea away from this man's wiles?
"When man's consciousness awakes from the sleep of the world, its first motive is Murder," said he; "you remember the Hebrew myth of Cain?" and he laughed silently. "Its next is Suicide; its third, Despair. This time I have put my mechanism quickly through the murder movement, so your wish to kill me was just now but momentary."
There was an evil gleam in his eye as he said this.
"I leafe a dagger on the table, because, if I left a pistol the subject would fire it, and that makes noise. Then, at the motion of Suicide you tried to kill yourself: the suicide is one grade higher than the murderer. And now, you are in Despair."
He bent the lever further down and touched a smaller glass rod.
"And now, I will gife to you—I alone—all the emotions of which humanity is capable."
How much time followed, I know not; nor whether it was not all a dream, only that a dream can hardly be more vivid—as this was—than my life itself. First, a nightmare came of evil passions; after murder and suicide and despair came revenge, envy, hatred, greed of money, greed of power, lust. I say "came," for each one came on me with all the force the worst of men can feel. Had I been free, in some other place, I should inexorably have committed the crimes these evil passions breed, and there was always some pretext of a cause. Now it was revenge on Materialismus himself for his winning of Althea Hardy; now it was envy of his powers, or greed of his possessions; and then my roving eye fell on that strange picture of his I mentioned before; the face of the woman now seemed to be Althea's. In a glance all the poetry, all the sympathy of my mind or soul that I thought bound me to her had vanished, and in their place I only knew desire. The doctor's leer seemed to read my thoughts; he let the lever stay long at this speed, and then he put it back again to that strange rhythm of Sleep.
"So—I must rest you a little between times," he said. "Is my fine poet convinced?"
But I was silent, and he turned another wheel.
"All these are only evil passions," said I, "there may well be something physical in them."
"Poh—I can gife you just so well the others," he sneered. "I tell you why I do not gife you all at once——"
"You can produce passion," I answered, "but not love."
"Poh—it takes but a little greater speed. What you call love is but the multiple of passion and cosmic love, that is, gravitation."
I stared at the man.
"It is quite as I say. About two hundred thousand vibrations make in man's cerebrum what you call passion; about four billion per second, that is gravitation, what the philosophers call will, the poets, cosmic love; this comes just after light, white light, which is the sum of all the lights. And their multiple again, of love and light, makes many sextillions, and that is love of God, what the priests name religion." … I think I grew faint, for he said, "You must hafe some refreshments, or you cannot bear it."
He broke some raw eggs in a glass, in some sherry, and placed it by my side, and I saw him bend the lever much farther.
"Perhaps," I spoke out, then, "you can create the emotion, or the mental existence—whatever you call it—of God himself." I spoke with scorn, for my mind was clearer than ever.
"I can—almost," he muttered. "Just now I have turned the rhythm to the thought millions, which lie above what you call evil passions, between them and what you call the good ones. It is all a mere question of degree. In the eye of science all are the same; morally, one is alike so good as the other. Only motion—that is life; and slower, slower, that is nearer death; and life is good, and death is evil."
"But I can have these thoughts without your machinery," said I.
"Yes," said he, "and I can cause them with it; that proves they are mechanical. Now, the rhythm is on the intellectual-process movement; hence you argue."
Millions of thoughts, fancies, inspirations, flashed through my brain as he left me to busy himself with other levers. How long this time lasted I again knew not; but it seemed that I passed through all the experience of human life. Then suddenly my thinking ceased, and I became conscious only of a bad odor by my side. This was followed in a moment by an intense scarlet light.
"Just so," he said, as if he had noted my expression; "it is the eggs in your glass, they altered when we passed through the chemical rays; they will now be rotten." And he took the glass and threw it out the window. "It was altered as we passed through the spectrum by no other process than the brain thinks."
He had darkened the room, but the light changed from red through orange, yellow, green, blue, violet; then, after a moment's darkness, it began again, more glorious than before. White, white it was now, most glorious; it flooded the old warehouse, and the shadows rolled from the dark places in my soul. And close on the light followed hope again; hope of life, of myself, of the world, of Althea.
"It is the first of the motions you call virtuous," came his sibilant voice, but I heeded him not. For even as he spoke my soul was lifted unto faith, and I knew that this man lied.
"I can do but one thing more," said he, "and that is—love."
"I thought," said I, "you could make communion with the Deity."
"And so I could," he cried, angrily, "so I could; but I must first give my glass rod an infinite rotation; the number of vibrations in a second must be a number which is a multiple of all other numbers, however great; for that even my great fly-wheel must have an infinite speed. Ah, your 'loft with power' does not give me that. … But it would be only an idea if I could do that too, nothing but a rhythmic motion in your brain." …
Then my faith rose well above this idle chatter. But I kept silence; for again my soul had passed out of the ken of this German doctor. Althea I saw; Althea in the dark room before me; Althea, and I had communion with her soul. Then I knew indeed that I did love her.
The ecstasy of that moment knew no time; it may have been a minute or an hour, as we mortals measure it; it was but an eternity of bliss to me. … Then followed again faith and hope, and then I awoke and saw the room all radiant with the calm of that white light—the light that Dante saw so near to God.
But it changed again to violet, like the glacier's cave, blue like the heavens, yellow like the day; then faded through the scarlet into night.
Again I was in a sea of thoughts and phantasies; the inspiration of a Shakespeare, the fancy of a Mozart or a Titian, the study of a Newton, all in turn were mine. And then my evil dreams began. Through lust to greed of power, then to avarice, hatred, envy, and revenge, my soul was driven like a leaf before the autumn wind.
Then I rose and flew at his throat once more. "Thou liest!" I cried. "Heed not the rabble's cry—God lies NOT in a rotting egg!"
I remember no more.
When I regained consciousness it was a winter twilight, and the room was cold. I was alone in the doctor's study and the machinery in the house was stilled. … I went to the eastern window and saw that the twilight was not the twilight of the dawn. I must have slept all day. … As I turned back I saw a folded paper on the table, and read, in the doctor's hand:
"In six hours you have passed through all the thoughts, all the wills, and all the passions known to devils, men, or angels. You must now sleep deeply or you die. I have put the lever on the rhythm of the world, which is Sleep.
"In twelve hours I shall stop it and you will wake.
"Then you had better go home and seek your finite sleep, or I have known men lose their mind."
I staggered out into the street and sought my room. My head was still dizzy, my brain felt tired, and my soul was sore. I felt like an old man; and yet my heart was still half-drunk with sleep, and enamoured with it, entranced with that profound slumber of the world to which all consciousness comes as a sorrow.
The night was intensely cold; the stars were like blue fires; a heavy ox-sledge went by me, creaking in the snow. It was a fine night for the river. I suddenly remembered that it must be the night for the skating party, and my engagement with Althea. And with her there came a memory of that love that I had felt for her, sublimated, as it had been, beyond all earthly love.
I hurried back to my room; and as I lit the lamp I saw a note addressed to me, in her handwriting, lying on my study table. I opened it; all it contained was in two phrases:
"Good-by; forgive me.
I knew not what to think; but my heart worked quicker than my brain. It led me to Althea's house; the old lady with whom she lived told me that she had already started for the skating party. Already? I did not dare to ask with whom. It was a breach of custom that augured darkly, her not waiting for me, her escort.
On my way to the river I took the street by the house of Materialismus. They were not there. The old warehouse was dark in all its windows. I went in; the crazy wooden building was trembling with the Power; but all was dark and silent but the slow beating of the Power on the Murder pulse.
I snatched up the Spanish dagger where it still lay on the table, and rushed out of that devil's workshop and along the silent street to the river. Far up the stream I could already make out a rosy glow, the fires and lanterns of the skating party. I had no skates, but ran out upon the river in a straight line, just skirting the brink of the falls where the full flood maned itself and arched downward, steady, to its dissolution in the mist. I came to the place of pleasure, marked out by gay lines of paper lanterns; the people spoke to me, and some laughed, as I threaded my way through them; but I heeded not; they swerving and darting about me, like so many butterflies, I keeping to my line. By the time I had traversed the illuminated inclosure I had seen all who were in it. Althea was not among them.
I reached the farthest lantern, and looked out. The white river stretched broad away under the black sky, faintly mirroring large, solemn stars. It took a moment for my eyes, dazzled by the tawdry light, to get used to the quiet starlight; but then I fancied that I saw two figures, skating side by side, far up the river. They were well over to the eastern shore, skating up stream; a mile or more above them the road to A—— crossed the river, in a long, covered bridge.
I knew that they were making for that road, where the doctor doubtless had a sleigh in waiting. By crossing diagonally, I could, perhaps, cut them off.
"Lend me your skates," I said to a friend who had come up and stood looking at me curiously. Before he well understood, I had torn them off his feet and fitted them to my own; and I remember that to save time I cut his ankle-strap off with the Spanish knife. A moment more and I was speeding up the silent river, with no light but the stars, and no guide but the two figures that were slowly creeping up in the shadow of the shore. I laughed aloud; I knew this German beau was no match for me in speed or strength. I did not throw the knife away, for I meant more silent and more certain punishment than a naked blow could give. The murder motive still was in my brain.
I do not know when they first knew that I was coming. But I soon saw them hurrying, as if from fear; at least her strokes were feeble, and he seemed to be urging, or dragging, her on. By the side of the river, hitched to the last post of the bridge, I could see a single horse and sleigh.
But I shouted with delight, for I was already almost even with them, and could easily dash across to the shore while they were landing. I kept to my straight line; I was now below the last pier of the bridge; and then I heard a laugh from him, answering my shout. Between me and the bank was a long, open channel of rippling dark water, leading up and down, many miles, from beneath the last section of the bridge.
They had reached the shore, and he was dragging her, half reluctant, up the bank. In a minute, and he would have reached his horse.
I put the knife between my teeth and plunged in. In a few strokes of swimming I was across; but the ice was shelving on the other side, and brittle; and the strong stream had a tendency to drag me under. I got my elbows on the edge of ice, and it broke. Again I got my arms upon the shelving ice; it broke again. I heard a wild cry from Althea—I cursed him—and I knew no more.
When I next knew life, it was spring; and I saw the lilac buds leafing by my window in the garden. I had been saved by the others—some of them had followed me up the river—unconscious, they told me, the dagger still clinched in my hand.
Althea I have never seen again. First I heard that she had married him; but then, after some years, came a rumor that she had not married him. Her father lost his fortune in a vain search for her, and died. After many years, she returned, alone. She lives, her beauty faded, in the old place.