Stories by Foreign Authors (Spanish)/The White Butterfly
THE WHITE BUTTERFLY
Translated by Mary J. Serrano.
And why should it not? Let us see. "What has her heart told her?" "It has told her that it is sad." "Sad! and why?" "Oh, for a very simple reason! Because it thrills in response to a new, strange feeling, never known before. It fancies—curious caprice!—that it has changed owners." "And why is that?" "The fact is, that it has learned, it knows not where, that men are ungrateful and inconstant, and this is the reason why Berta sighs." "Ah! And what does the mirror tell her to console her?" "Why, the mirror tells her that she is beautiful." "Yes?" "Yes; that her eyes are dark and lustrous, her eyebrows magnificent, her cheeks fresh and rosy." "And what then?" "It is plain; her heart is filled with hope, and therefore it is that Berta smiles."
This is the condition of mind in which we find her. Up to the present she has passed her life without thinking of anything more serious than the innocent pranks of childhood; she was a child up to the age of seventeen, but a boisterous, gay, restless, daring, mischievous child; she turned the house upside down, and in the same way she would have been capable of turning the world upside down; she had neither fears nor duties; she played like a crazy thing and slept like a fool. For her mother had died before Berta was old enough to know her; and although her mother's portrait hung at the head of her bed, this image, at once sweet and serious, was not sufficient to restrain the thoughtless impetuosity of the girl. She was, besides, an only daughter, and her father, of whom we shall give some account later, adored her. In addition to all this, her nurse, who acted as housekeeper in the house, was at the same time the accomplice and the apologist of her pranks, for the truth is she loved her like the apple of her eye.
Less than this might have sufficed to turn an angel into an imp, and indeed much less would have sufficed in Berta's case, for the natural vivacity of her disposition inclined her to all kinds of pranks. Opposition irritated her to such a degree as to set her crying. But what tears! Suddenly, in the midst of her sobs, she would burst out laughing, for her soul was all gayety, spontaneous, contagious gayety, the gayety of the birds when day is breaking.
But this gayety could not last for ever; and, willing or unwilling, the moment had to come some time when Berta would quiet down; for it was not natural that she should remain all her life a madcap; and this moment at last arrived; and all at once the girl's boisterous gayety began to calm down, to cloud over, like a storm that is gathering, like a sky that is darkening.
The nurse is the first to observe this change in Berta, and although the girl's pranks had driven her to her wits' end, seeing her silent, thoughtful, pensive, that is to say, quiet, she is overjoyed. The girl is now a woman. Profound mystery! She has left off the giddiness of childhood to take on the sedateness of youth. Poor woman! she does not know that a young girl is a thousand times more crazy than a child. But the fact is that Berta does not seem the same girl. And the change has taken place of a sudden, from one day to another, in the twinkling of an eye, so to say.
And sedateness becomes her well, very well. She seems taller, more—more everything; nothing better could be asked of her; but since she has become sensible the house is silent. The songs, the tumult, all the boisterousness of the past have disappeared. The good nurse, who is enchanted to see her so quiet, so silent, so sedate, yet misses the noisy gayety that formerly filled the house; and if the choice had been given to her, she would hardly have known which to prefer.
In this way the days pass calm and tranquil. Berta, who had always been so early a riser, does not now rise very early. Does she sleep more? That is what no one knows, but if she sleeps more she certainly eats less; and not only this, but from time to time, and without any apparent cause, heart-breaking sighs escape her.
The nurse, who idolizes her, and who would do anything in the world to please or to serve her, observes it all but says nothing. She says nothing, but she thinks the more. That is to say, that at every sigh she hears she draws down her mouth, screws up her eye, and says to herself: "Hm! there it is again."
Of course she would not remain silent for long; for she was not a woman to hold her tongue easily. Besides, Berta's sedateness was now getting to be a fixed fact, and the nurse was at the end of her patience; for as she was accustomed to say, "A loaf that is put into the oven twisted will not come out of it straight."
And if she succeeded in keeping silence for a few days, it was only because she was waiting for Berta herself to speak and tell her what was on her mind; but Berta gave no sign that she understood her; her heart remained closed to the nurse, notwithstanding all her efforts to open it. The key had been lost, and none of those that hung at the housekeeper's girdle fitted it. It would be necessary to force the lock.
One day the nurse left off temporizing and took the bull by the horns. She entered Berta's room, where she found her engaged in fastening a flaming red carnation in her dark hair.
"There! that's what I like to see," she said. "That's right, now. What a beautiful pink! It is as red as fire. And pinks of that color don't grow in your flower-beds!"
Berta cast down her eyes.
"You think I can't see what is going on before my eyes," she continued, "when you know that nothing can escape me. Yes, yes. I should like to see the girl that could hoodwink me! But why don't you say something? Have you lost your tongue?"
Berta turned as red as a poppy.
"Bah!" cried the nurse. "That pink must have flown over from the terrace in front of your windows. I can see the plant from here; there were four pinks on it yesterday, and to-day there are only three. The neighbor, eh? What folly! There is neither sense nor reason in that."
This time Berta turned pale, and looked fixedly at her nurse, as if she had not taken in the sense of her words.
"I don't mean," resumed the nurse, "that you ought to take the veil, or that the neighbor is a man to be looked down upon either; but you are worthy of a king, and there is no sort of sense in this. A few signals from window to window; a few sidelong glances, and then—what? Nothing. You will forget each other. It will be out of sight out of mind with both of you."
Berta shook her head.
"You say it will not be so?" asked the nurse.
"I say it will not," answered Berta.
"And why not? Let us hear why not? What security have you—"
Berta did not allow her to finish.
"Our vows," she said.
"Vows!" cried the nurse, crossing herself. "Is that where we are!—Vows!" she repeated, scornfully; "pretty things they are—words that the wind carries away."
Some memory of her own youth must have come to her mind at this moment, for she sighed and then went on:
"And would they by chance be the first vows in the world to be broken? To-day it is all very well; there is no one else for you to see but the neighbor; but to-morrow?"
"Never," replied Berta.
"Worse and worse," returned the nurse; "for in that case he will be the first to tire of you, and then hold him if you can. To-day he may be as sweet as honey to you, but to-morrow it will be another story. What are you going to say? That he is young, and handsome? Silly, silly girl. Is he any the less a man for that? Do you want to know what men are?"
Berta, going up to her nurse, put her hand over her mouth and answered quickly:
"No, I don't want to know."
The nurse left Berta's room, holding her hands to her head and saying to herself:
"Mad, stark, staring mad!"
We know already that Berta has a father, and now we are going to learn that this father, without being in any way an extraordinary being, is yet no common man. To look at him, one would take him to be over sixty; but appearances are in this case deceitful, for he is not yet forty-nine. In the same city in which he dwells live some who were companions of his childhood, and they are still young; but Berta's father became a widower shortly after his marriage, and the loss of his wife put an end to his youth. He settled his affairs, gave up his business, realized a part of his property and retired from the world. That is to say, that he devoted himself to the care of his daughter, in whom he beheld the living image of the wife he had lost. Why should he wish to be young any longer? He grew aged then long before he had grown old.
Berta—Berta. In this name all his thoughts were centred, and in his thoughts there was much of sweetness and much of bitterness, for there is not in the circle of human happiness a cup of honey that has not its drop of gall.
To see him now walking up and down his room, looking now at the ceiling, now at the floor, biting his nails and striking his forehead, one would think the heavens were about to fall down and crush him or the earth to open up under his feet.
Suddenly he struck his forehead with his open palm, and crossing over to the door of the room, he raised the curtain, put out his head, and opened his lips to say something; but the words remained unuttered, and he stood with his mouth wide open, gazing with amazement at the nurse who, without observing the movement of the curtain, was approaching the door, gesticulating violently; it was evident that she had something extraordinary on her mind.
Berta's father drew aside; the nurse entered the room, and the two remained face to face, looking at each other as if they had never seen each other before."
"What is the matter, Nurse Juana?" asked Berta's father. "I never saw you look like that before."
"Well, you look no better . Any one would say, to see you, that you had just risen from the grave."
Berta's father slowly arched his eyebrows, heaved a profound sigh, and sinking into a chair, as if weighed down by the burden of existence, he asked again:
"What is the matter?"
"The matter is," answered the nurse, "that the devil has got into this house."
"It is possible," he answered; "and if you add that it is not an hour since he left this room, you will not be far wrong."
"The Lord have mercy on us!" exclaimed the nurse: "the devil here!"
"Yes, Nurse Juana, the devil in person."
"And you saw him?"
"I saw him."
"What a horrible visitor!" exclaimed Juana, crossing herself.
"No," said Berta's father, "he is not horrible; he took the appearance of a handsome young man who has all the air of a terrible rake."
"And how did this demon come in?"
"By the door, Juana, by the door."
"Without knocking! Without waiting to be let in!"
"That is the devil's way," replied Berta's father; "he will slip in anywhere. I was not expecting him; I was reading that book that is lying open on the table, and as I was turning over a leaf, I felt something like a breath of air; I looked up and saw him before me. I was struck with amazement. I tried to rise, but he put his hand on my shoulder and obliged me to remain seated; and he smiled all the time; that is to say, he laughed in my face. He made a thousand excuses, indeed, treating me with such familiarity that before I had offered him a chair, he took one himself and sat down in it as if he had been in his own house."
Nurse Juana listened without moving a muscle of her face, and she would have thought that Berta's father was jesting if the terror depicted on his countenance had not testified to the truth of his words. Besides, the good man was not in the habit of jesting. Had he become suddenly mad? Mad, a man of so much good sense! The nurse crossed herself, inwardly, without knowing what to think of what she had just heard.
"And who was he looking for?" she asked; "what did he want?"
"He came in boldly," answered Berta's father. "He wanted me, and he came to make a proposal to me."
"A proposal!" exclaimed Juana.
"Yes, that is what it was, a proposal. What do you suppose he wants?"
"What is it?"
He stopped, as if he found it necessary to make a great effort, and clasping his hands he cried:
"He wants to marry Berta!"
"To marry Berta!" repeated Juana, crossing herself again.
"Just as you hear.—He came very frankly to ask me for her hand."
"And you rated him soundly for his presumption, and the poor devil went away with a No as big as a house."
"Ah, Nurse Juana, one does n't say no to the devil so easily as that. I was unable to resist him, I could not defend myself, and he has got my word. What shall I do now! He is young, handsome, and rich, he has a sweet voice, but he says some things that terrify one—What is to become of her? No, I cannot reconcile myself to the thought of her marrying him. I have given my consent, but now I would say no to him a thousand times over—now, that he is not here; for you must know that his presence ties the hands and binds the tongue."
"What a man!" cried the nurse in dismay.
Berta's father was very kind-hearted, and he had a very good opinion of mankind; thus it was that he shook his head despondently as he replied:
"A man!—A man would not be so cruel to me. To take Berta from me is to take my life. It is to assassinate me without allowing me a chance to defend myself; and that is the most horrible part of it—they will be married, and Berta will be united for life to the murderer of her father."
The nurse folded her arms and there was a moment of sorrowful silence.
Suddenly she said:
"Ah!—Berta will refuse."
A bitter smile crossed the lips of the unhappy father.
"You think she will not?" said the nurse. "Now, we shall see."
And she turned to go for Berta, but at the same moment the curtain was raised and Berta entered the room.
The red carnation glowed in her black hair like fire in the darkness; her eyes shone with a strange light, and in the fearless expression of her countenance was to be divined the strength of an unalterable resolution.
She looked alternately at her father and at her nurse, and then in a trembling voice she said:
"I know all. It may be to my life-long happiness; it may be to my eternal misery; but that man is the master of my heart."
She smiled first at her father and then at her nurse; and left the room with the same tranquillity with which she had entered it.
The nurse and the father remained standing where she left them, motionless, dumb, astounded.
The devil then had succeeded in gaining an entrance into Berta's house in the manner in which we have seen; and not only had he gained an entrance into it, but he had taken possession of it as if it had always been his own. He was hardly out of it before he was back again. He spent in it several of his mornings, many of his afternoons, and all his evenings; and there was no way of escaping his assiduous visits, for Berta was always there to receive him. And it was not easy to be angry with him, either; for he possessed the charm of an irresistible gayety, and one had not only to be resigned but to show pleasure at his constant presence. Besides, neither Berta's father nor the housekeeper dared to treat him coldly; they felt compelled, by what irresistible spell they knew not, to receive him with all honor and with a smiling countenance.
This is the case when they are under the influence of his presence: but when he is absent, the father and the nurse treat him without any ceremony whatever. The two get together in secret and in whispers revenge themselves upon him by picking him to pieces. In these secret backbitings they give vent to the aversion with which he inspires them; and the father and the nurse between them leave him without a single good quality.
And it is not without reason that they berate him, for since he took the house by storm nothing is done in it but what pleases him; he it is who rules it, he it is who orders everything. For Berta thinks that all he does is right, and there is no help for it but to bow in silence to her will.
But they are not satisfied with berating him; they also conspire against him. What means shall they take to overthrow the power of this unlawful ruler?—for in the eyes of the housekeeper he is a usurper, and in those of Berta's father, a tyrant;—turn him out of the house? This is the one thought of the conspirators. But how? This is the difficulty which confronts them.
Two means entirely opposed to each other occur to them—to fly from him or to make a stand against him. To fly is the plan of Berta's father; it is the resource which is most consistent with his pacific character. To fly far from him, far away, to the ends of the earth.
But to this the housekeeper answers:
"Fly from him! What nonsense! Where could we go, that he would not follow us? No; such folly is not to be thought of. What we ought to do is to take a firm stand and defend ourselves against him."
"Defend ourselves against him!" exclaimed Berta's father. "With what weapons? With what strength?"
"Neither strength nor weapons are required," replied the nurse. "Some day you bar the door against him, and then he may knock in vain. Satan turns away from closed doors."
"Nurse Juana, that is folly," replied Berta's father; "if he does not come in by the door he will come in by the window, or down the chimney."
Juana bit her lips reflectively, for what she had never been able to explain satisfactorily to herself was how he had succeeded in entering the house for the first time, for the door was always kept closed; it was necessary to knock to have it opened; and it was never opened unless under the inspection of the housekeeper; she always wanted to know who came in and who went out, and in this she was very particular. How then had he been able to come in without being seen or heard?
Her first inquiries on this mysterious point were addressed to Berta—and Berta answered simply that he had entered without knocking because the door was open. This the nurse found impossible to believe.
She remained thoughtful, then, for this demon of a man, it seemed, could in truth enter the house even if the door were barred.
The conspirators did not get beyond these two courses of action: to fly or to defend themselves. To fly was impossible, and to defend themselves was impracticable. Berta's father and the housekeeper discussed these two points daily without seeing light on any side. And must they resign themselves to living under the diabolical yoke of that man? Both found themselves in a situation that would be difficult to describe. They lived in constant trepidation, fearing they knew not what.
And who, then, is this man who rules them with his presence and who has made himself master of Berta's heart? His name is Adrian Baker, he lives alone, and he possesses a large fortune. This is all that is known about him.
For the rest, he is young, tall, graceful in figure, with hair like gold and a complexion as fair as snow; ardent and impassioned in speech, and with steadfast, searching, and melancholy eyes, blue as the blue of deep waters.
His manners could not be more natural, affectionate, and simple than they are. He enters the house and runs up the stairs, two steps at a time. Nothing stops him. If he meets Berta's father, he rushes to him and embraces him, and the good man trembles from head to foot in the pressure of those affectionate embraces. If it is the housekeeper who comes to meet him, he lays his hand affectionately on her shoulder, and he always has some pleasant remark to make, some cunning flattery which awakens in the nurse a strange emotion. She feels as if the sap of youth were, of a sudden, flowing through her veins.
There is no way of escaping the magic of his words, the spell of his voice, the charm of his presence. Juana has observed that when he looks at Berta his eyes shine with a light like that which the eyes of cats emit in the dark; she has observed also that Berta turns pale under the power of his glance, and that she bows her head under it as if yielding to the influence of an irresistible will.
She has observed still more: she has observed that this mysterious man at times sits lost in thought, his chin resting on his hand and a frown on his brows, as if he saw some dreadful vision before him, and that presently, as if awakening from a dream, he talks and smiles and laughs as before. Berta's father has observed, on his side, that he knows something about everything, understands something of everything, has an explanation for everything, comprehends and divines everything, as if he possessed the secret of all things. And these observations they communicate to each other, filled with wonder and amazement.
Sometimes, sitting beside Berta, he amuses himself winding the linen floss or the silks with which she is embroidering, or in cutting fantastic figures out of any scrap of paper that may be at hand. Then he is like a child. At other times he speaks of the world and of men, of foreign countries and of remote ages, with so much gravity and judgment that he seems like an old man who has retired from the world laden with wisdom and experience.
But when he seats himself at the piano, then one can only yield one's self unresistingly to the caprices of his will. The keys, touched by his fingers, produce melodies so sparkling, so joyous, that the soul is filled with gayety; but suddenly he changes to another key and the piano moans and sighs like a human voice, and the heart is moved and the eyes fill with tears. But this is not all; for, when one least expects it, thunder low and deep seems to roll through the instrument; and strains are heard, now near, now distant, that thrill the heart, and tones that fill the soul with terror; through the vibrating chords all the spirits of the other world seem to be speaking in an unknown tongue.
It is all very well for the housekeeper to regard Adrian Baker as the devil in person, or as a man possessed by the devil, or at least as an extraordinary being, who possesses the diabolical secret of some wonder-working philtre. It is all very well for Berta's father to see in him a masterful mind and an eccentric nature. And who knows—he has sometimes heard of mysterious fluids, of subtle forces which attract and repel, of dominating influences, of marvels of magnetism; and although he has never given a great deal of thought to any of those matters, he thinks about them since he has felt himself dominated by this singular personage, and Adrian Baker has become, in fact, his fixed idea, his absorbing thought, his unceasing preoccupation, his constant monomania. Berta's father and the housekeeper may very well attribute to him marvellous powers, suggested by their own excited imaginations; but we must not share in those hallucinations, nor are we to conclude from them that Adrian Baker is outside the common law to which ordinary mortals are subject.
This is evident; but, still, who is Adrian Baker?
We shall present here all the information that we have been able to gather about him, and let each one draw from it the conclusion he pleases.
It is not yet quite two years since one of the carriages which transport passengers from the railway station to the city which is the scene of our story, drove rapidly from the station; the energy with which the coachman whipped up his horses showed the haste or the importance of the travellers it carried.
This carriage entered the city and stopped before the door of the best hotel of the place; there the solitary traveller it carried alighted from it, and this traveller was Adrian Baker. He was enveloped in a travelling great-coat lined with costly fur. The eagerness with which the waiters of the hotel hastened to meet him showed that they had discovered in the new guest a mine of tips. The coachman took his leave of him, hat in hand, and as he turned away looked around at the bystanders, displaying to them a gold coin in his left eye.
Nothing more was needed to cause the luggage of the guest to be whisked off to the most sumptuous room in the hotel. Seven cities of Greece disputed with one another the honor of having been the birthplace of Homer; more than seven waiters disputed with one another the honor of carrying Adrian Baker's valise. He was like a king entering his palace.
For several days he was to be seen alone and on foot, traversing the streets and visiting the most noteworthy buildings; then, alone also, but in a carriage, he was to be seen viewing the wildest and most picturesque spots in the neighborhood, with the attention of an artist, a philosopher, or a poet.
He was affable and easy in his manners; and he soon had many friends who talked admiringly of his eccentricities, of his riches, and of his learning; so that he was for some time the lion of the day, and therefore the favorite subject of every conversation. To win his friendship would have been for the men a triumph; and to win his heart would have been for the haughtiest woman more than a triumph; but Adrian Baker kept his inmost heart closed alike to friendship and to love; so that only three things were known about him—that he was young, that he was rich, and that he had travelled over half the world.
He was supposed to be an Englishman, a German, or an American; in the first place, because he was fair, and in the second place, because, although he spoke Spanish as if it were his native tongue, a certain foreign flavor was to be noticed in his accent, which each one interpreted according to his fancy.
For the rest, he seemed pleased with the beauty of the sky and the gayety of the landscape, and although he had told no one whether he intended to remain there long or not, the fact was that he did not go away. Doubtless he grew tired of the life at the hotel, for one day he suddenly bought a fine house and established himself in it like a prince. This edifice, venerable from its antiquity, had the grandiose aspect of a palace, and one of its angles fronted Berta's house.
This is all that was known about Adrian Baker. We now know, therefore, that the mysterious Adrian Baker was neither more nor less than Berta's neighbor himself.
One night, returning from his daily visit to Berta, he entered the house, crossed the hall, and shut himself up in his own apartments. Shortly afterwards the great door of the palace, creaking harshly on its hinges, was closed; the lights were extinguished one by one, and everything remained in profound silence. Adrian Baker, however, was not asleep.
At the further end of the room, which was lighted by the soft light of a lamp, he sat with his elbows resting on a mahogany table and his face buried in his hands, seemingly lost in thought. And his thoughts could not be of a pleasant nature, for the stern frown upon his brow showed that some storm was raging behind that forehead smooth as a child's and pale as death. The light of the lamp, reflected from his golden hair, seemed to envelop his head in fantastic lights and shadows.
After many moments of immobility and silence, he struck the table violently with the palm of his hand, exclaiming:
"Accursed riches! Odious learning! Cruel experience!"
Then he rose to his feet, and striding up and down the room like a madman, he cried in smothered accents:
"Faith! Faith! Doubt is killing me!"
A moment later he shook his beautiful head and burst into a terrible laugh.
"Very well," he said. "The proof is a terrible one, but I require this proof. I must descend into the tomb to obtain it: well, then, I will descend into the tomb. I must consult the sombre oracle of death concerning the mysteries of life: well, then, I will consult it."
At this moment the glass chimney of the lamp burst, falling to the floor in a thousand fragments; the lurid flame sent forth a black smoke that filled the room with shadows which crept along the walls, mingled together on the ceiling, and crossed one another on the floor; the furniture seemed to be moving, the ceiling sinking down, and the walls receding.
In the midst of this demon dance of lights and shadows, the flame of the lamp went out, as if in obedience to an invisible breath, and in the darkness that followed all was silence.
Something extraordinary must have occurred in Berta's house, for the nurse seemed to have been seized by a sudden fit of restlessness that would not let her sit still for a moment. She went to and fro, upstairs and down, out and in, with the mechanical movement of an automaton. It was a sort of nervous attack that had in a moment increased twofold the housekeeper's domestic activity. Suddenly she would stand still, and placing her forefinger on her upper lip she would remain motionless, as if she were seeking in her mind the explanation of some mystery or the key to some riddle, gesticulating with expressive eloquence, and, so to say, thinking in gestures.
But the cause of the agitation which we observe in her could not be a very alarming one, for in the midst of it all there was apparent something like joy, a secret joy which in spite of herself was perceptible through her restlessness and her gesticulations. In our poor human nature, joy and sorrow often manifest themselves by the same symptoms; and a piece of good news will agitate us in the same way as a piece of bad news.
Be this as it may, what is certain is that the housekeeper seemed to be excited by some secret thought which she turned over and over in her mind, and that she was waiting for something with impatience, for from time to time she stood still, stretched out her neck, and listened.
Suddenly the door-bell rang twice; slowly, deliberately, producing on the nurse the effect of an electric shock. She threw down some house-linen which she had in her hands, overturned a chair or two that stood in her way, and tore a curtain that opposed her progress, leaving devastation and destruction in her wake, like a storm.
She pulled the cord which opened the door, and she pulled it so violently that the door sprang wide open, giving admittance to Berta's father, who entered slowly, leaning on his cane like a man whose vitality is beginning to fail. As he entered, he raised his eyes with a look of melancholy discouragement, and at the head of the stairs he saw the housekeeper, who seemed to be trying to tell him something, gesticulating violently and waving her arms like the apparatus of a semaphore. The good man did not understand a word of this telegraphic language, and he stopped at the foot of the stairs, endeavoring to comprehend the meaning of the signs which the housekeeper was excitedly making above his head. But, naturally, he was not very skilful in this kind of investigation, and his not very vivid imagination was at this moment paralyzed. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders with a sort of resigned and patient desperation, as if to say, "What are you trying to tell me?" The housekeeper folded her arms and shook her head three times; this meant: "Stupid! stupid! stupid!" The good man bent his head under the triple accusation, and proceeded to ascend the stairs. At the head Nurse Juana was waiting for him, and without further ceremony she took him by the hand and drew him into his room; and there, after assuring herself that no one was within hearing, she put her mouth close to the ear of Berta's father, and in a mysterious voice, and with an air of profound mystery, she said to him:
"He is going away!"
"He is going away!" repeated Berta's father, exhaling a profound sigh.
"Yes," she added; "we are going to be free."
"Free!" repeated the good man, shaking his head with an air of incredulity. Then he asked:
"And where is he going?"
"He is going very far away," answered the nurse. "That is certain. He is going very far away, to some place, I don't know where, at the other end of the earth. It is a sudden journey."
The good man sighed again despondently; Nurse Juana looked at him with amazement, saying:
"Any one would suppose that I had just given you a piece of bad news. Can that man have bewitched you to the extent—"
"Yes," he interrupted, "for if he goes he will not go alone; he will take Berta with him, and then what is to become of us?"
"Nothing of the kind," replied Juana. "He will go alone—entirely alone."
"Worse and worse," said the father, "for then, what is to become of Berta?"
"Nothing," said the nurse. "Out of sight, out of mind. The absent are forgotten; the dead are buried. That is the way of the world. Berta knows all about it; she told me herself, and she is as calm and as cool as possible. Bah, she won't need any cordial to keep her up when she is bidding him good-bye."
As she uttered the last word she turned her head and she could not restrain the cry that rose to her lips as she saw Adrian Baker, who had just entered—Adrian Baker, in person, paler than ever, dressed in a handsome travelling suit. His eyes shone with a strange lustre, and a smile, half sad, half mocking, curved his lips.
He begged a thousand pardons for the surprise which he had caused them, and said that unforeseen circumstances obliged him to undertake a sudden journey to New York, where he was urgently called by affairs of the greatest importance, but that he would return soon.
"I am going away," he ended, "but I leave my heart here and I will come back for it."
Saying this, he embraced Berta's father so affectionately that the worthy man was deeply moved, and Nurse Juana, dominated by the voice and the presence of this singular man, felt a tear or two spring to her eyes, which she hastened to wipe away with the corner of her apron.
Adrian Baker laid his hand on her shoulder, a hand which the nurse felt tremble, and she trembled herself as she heard him say:
"That is the way of the world, eh? Well, we shall see."
Then he left the room, and the father and the nurse followed him mechanically.
Berta came out to meet them, and her hand sought Adrian Baker's, and both hands remained clasped for a long time.
"You will come back soon?" asked Berta, in soft and trembling accents.
"Soon," he answered.
"When?" she asked.
"Soon," repeated Baker. "If you wait for me your heart will announce my return to you."
"I will wait for ever for you," said Berta, in a choking voice, but without a tear in her eyes.
Their hands unclasped, Adrian Baker hurried to the stairs, ran down precipitately, and shortly afterward they heard the rolling of the carriage which bore him away.
Bertha gave her father a gentle smile and then ran to shut herself up in her room.
As the noise of the carriage wheels died away in the distance, like a dying peal of thunder, the housekeeper crossed herself, and said:
"He is gone; now we can breathe freely."
Apparently Nurse Juana knew the human heart well, or at least Berta's heart, for three months had passed since Adrian Baker had sailed for New York, and not once had she been able to surprise a tear in the eyes of the girl to whom she had taken the place of a mother. Berta apparently felt no grief at his absence.
It is true that during these three months of absence a letter had been received from New York, in which Adrian Baker said to Berta all that is said in such cases; it was a simple, tender and earnest letter, that did not seem to have been written three thousand miles away; on the other side of the great ocean in which the most ardent and the most profound passions are wrecked. It is true that this letter was answered by return of mail, and that it traversed the stormy solitudes of the sea full of promises and hopes.
It is also true that Berta put away Adrian Baker's letter carefully, treasuring it as one treasures a relic. It is true that she passed whole hours seated at her piano running her fingers up and down the keys, playing Adrian Baker's favorite airs, which he himself had taught her. But except this, Berta lived like other girls; she had an excellent appetite and she slept the tranquil sleep of a happy heart. She spent the usual time at her toilet table and she took pleasure in making herself beautiful. Some of the asperities of her character had become softened; she spoke with all her natural vivacity, and, finally, she never mentioned Adrian Baker's name.
Her father and her nurse observed all this and deduced as a consequence that the traveller had left no trace in Berta's heart. Only one fear troubled them,—the fear that he would return.
In this way another month passed, and the memory of Adrian Baker began to wear away; if his name was sometimes mentioned, it was as one evokes the memory of a dream.
The dream, however, at times assumed the aspect of an impending reality. He might return, and beyond a doubt he had not intended to remain away for ever; his last farewell had not been an eternal one. If he himself was on the other side of the ocean, three thousand miles away, that is, in New York, at the other end of the earth, more, in the other world, his house was there, opposite them, open, kept by his servants with the same luxury and the same pomp as before he had gone away; his house that seemed like an enchanted palace waiting for its owner; and the order and care with which everything was conducted in it indicated that the servants did not wish to be surprised by the sudden appearance of their master; that is to say, that Adrian Baker might return at any moment. The plants on the terrace spread their branches as full of life as if they were tended by the hands of Adrian Baker himself.
Berta's father and the housekeeper saw in this house a constant menace; it came to be for them the shadow, so to say, of Adrian Baker; but for all that, time passed and the traveller did not return.
Spring came, and nature bloomed again with all the richness of vegetation which she displays in southern climes; and it is in the heart of the South that the scene of our story is laid. Everything put on its fairest and most smiling aspect, and the soul felt the vague happiness of a hope that is about to be realized.
Berta shared in this beautiful awakening of nature, and it might be said that her every beauty had acquired a new charm; her eyes seemed larger, her glance gentler, calmer, more profound; her cheeks fresher, softer, and rosier; and her smile more tender, innocent, and enchanting. Her figure had acquired a majestic ease, which gave to her movements voluptuousness and firmness. It seemed as if youth had made a supreme effort, and in giving the last touch to her beauty had obtained a masterpiece. She was in the full splendor of her loveliness.
In exchange, Adrian Baker's palace one morning appeared as gloomy as a sepulchre; the drawn blinds and the closed hall-door gave it the aspect of a deserted house; profound silence reigned within it, and yet the palace of Adrian Baker was still inhabited.
In the hall the figure of the porter appeared like a shade; he was dressed entirely in black, and all the other servants of the house were also clad in mourning, and in their faces were to be observed signs of sadness.
What had happened?
What had happened was simply that Adrian Baker had died in New York of an acute attack of pneumonia. The news had spread through the city with the rapidity with which bad news spreads, and it had also penetrated into Berta's house. At first it seemed incredible that Adrian Baker should have died, as if the life of this man were not subject to the contingencies to which the lives of other mortals are subject. But the tidings had been confirmed and they must be believed. Besides, the aspect of the palace bore testimony to the authenticity of the news. In that house hung with black the very stones seemed to mourn. The news had come in a black-bordered letter dated in New York and signed by the head of the house of Wilson and Company, with which Adrian Baker had large sums deposited.
Berta's father and the housekeeper looked at each other with amazement, and repeated, one after the other:
"He is dead!"
"He is dead!"
Berta, pale as death itself, surprised them as they uttered these words, and in a sepulchral voice she said:
"Yes, he has died in New York, but he lives in my heart."
And turning from them she fled to her room and seated herself at the window from which she could see the terrace of the palace. The flowers, agitated gently by the breezes of spring, leaned toward Berta as if sending her a melancholy greeting. She gazed at them without a tear in her eyes. The extreme pallor of her face and the slight trembling of her lips alone revealed the grief that afflicted her soul.
Suddenly the flight of a white butterfly circling in the air attracted her gaze. She followed it absently with her eyes, and the butterfly, as if drawn by Berta's gaze, tracing capricious circles, left the terrace, flew swiftly to Berta's window and entered the room.
With an involuntary movement Berta extended her hands to catch it, but the butterfly darted between them, and circled swiftly and silently about her head, forming around her brow a sort of aureole, which appeared and disappeared like a succession of lightning flashes. The wings of the butterfly glowed above Bertha's head with a light like the first splendors of the dawn. Then it passed before her eyes, she saw it hovering over the flowers on the terrace, and then it disappeared from her gaze as if it had vanished into air. Her eyes sought it with indescribable eagerness, but in vain; she saw it no more.
She clasped her hands and two large tears rose to her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
On the following day the housekeeper, entering Berta's room, saw a shadow outlined against the wall above the head of her bed. This shadow, as the nurse looked, took the form of a human head.
It was the head of Adrian Baker, the same head, with its pale forehead, its compelling glance, and its smile, at once sweet, sad, and mocking.
The housekeeper, out of her wits with terror, crossed herself as if she had seen a diabolical vision and hurried out of the room.
Adrian Baker's death has wrought terrible ravages in Berta. She does not distress those around her by ceaseless sighs and tears; she does not continually proclaim in words the depth of her sorrow; on the contrary, she hides her grief in her own breast, devours her tears in secret, chokes back her sighs and utters no unavailing complaints; Adrian Baker's name is never heard from her lips.
It might be thought that she had consoled herself easily, if in her eyes there did not lie the shadow of a deep grief, if the pallor of her cheeks did not cover her youthful beauty like a funeral pall, if her hollow voice did not reveal the profound loneliness of her heart. At times she smiles at her father, but in her smiles there is an inexpressible bitterness. She can be seen fading away, like the flame of an expiring lamp. Like a miser she hides her grief in the bottom of her heart, as if she feared that it might be taken from her.
Her father and her nurse see her growing thin, they see her fading away, they see her dying, without being able to stop the ravages of the persistent, voiceless, inconsolable grief that is slowly sapping her youth and her life, and they curse the name of Adrian Baker, and they would at the same time give their lives to bring him back to life; but death does not give up its prey, and only one hope remains to them, the last hope—time.
But time passes, and the memory of Adrian Baker, like a slow poison, is gradually consuming Berta's life.
Everything has been done: she has been surrounded with all the delights of the world; the most eligible suitors have sued for her favor; youth, beauty, and wealth have disputed her affection with one another, but her grief has remained inaccessible; she has been subjected to every proof, but it has not been possible to tear from her soul the demon image of Adrian Baker. Medical skill has been appealed to, and science has exhausted its resources in vain, for Berta's malady is incurable.
The nurse firmly believes that Adrian Baker has bewitched her; he has diffused through her blood a diabolical philtre. Strong love will survive absence, but no love will survive death. Berta, consequently, was bewitched.
Her father has only one thought, expressed in these words: "He has gone away and he is taking her with him; after all, he is taking her with him."
But there is still one other resource to be appealed to—solitude, the fields, nature. Who can tell! the sky, the sun, the air of the country, may revive her; the poetry of nature may awaken in her heart new feelings and new hopes; the murmur of the waters, the song of the birds, the shade of the trees—why not? There is no human sorrow, however great it may be, that does not sink into insignificance before the grandeur of the heavens.
At a little distance from the city Berta's father has a small villa, whose white walls and red roof can be seen through the trees which surround it. There could not be a more picturesque situation. To the right, the mountain; to the left, the plain; in front, the sea, stretching far in the distance, until it blends with the horizon; and that nothing may be wanting to complete the picture, the ruins of an ancient monastery, seated on the slope of the mountain, can be seen from the villa.
Berta offered no resistance, for it was a matter of indifference to her whether she lived in the city or in the country; the only thing she showed any desire about was that the piano should be taken with them, as if she regarded it as a dear friend and her only confidant; and the family removed to the villa and established themselves in it.
Berta herself arranged the room which she was to occupy in the villa. This opened on the garden and served her both as bedroom and dressing-room. Above her bed she hung a beautiful life-size photograph of a head. It was that of Adrian Baker, with his pale, smooth brow, his large blue eyes and his beautiful golden curls—the head of Adrian Baker admirably photographed, and which she herself had shaded.
For the piano no place could be found to please Berta. There was only one common room in the villa, the parlor, which at times also served as a dining-room. She was hesitating between the parlor and her bedroom, when the idea occurred to her to put it in a small pavilion covered with vines and honeysuckles, which stood in a corner of the garden and which was used as a hot-house. The idea seemed to be a happy one, and she smiled as it occurred to her, and the piano was placed in the pavilion, like a bird in its cage.
The journey must have fatigued Berta, for she retired early to her room, where the nurse left her in bed. Did she sleep? We cannot say; but at dawn the songs of the birds that made their nests in the garden caused her to rise. She opened the window-shutters and a flock of birds flew away frightened, to hide themselves in the tops of the trees, gilded by the first rays of the sun. Before long, however, the boldest of them returned to hop before her window, looking at Berta with a certain audacious familiarity as if they recognized in her an old friend. A few grains of wheat and a few crumbs of bread scattered on the window-sill gradually attracted the more timid, who grew at last to be familiar. The slightest movement, indeed, caused them to take flight precipitately; but they soon recovered their lost confidence and they returned again to hop gayly on the iron railing of the window.
Berta watched them, and as she watched them she smiled; and at the end of a few days she had induced them to come in and out with perfect confidence. In her solitary walks through the garden and through the avenue of lime trees which led to the villa, they followed her, flying from tree to tree. She spent a few hours of the morning, every day, in the pavilion, and there the birds came also, mingling their joyous carols with the melancholy strains of the piano; but the mad gayety of the birds was powerless to mitigate the profound sadness of Berta; her one thought was still Adrian—Adrian Baker.
This name, which never escaped her lips, was to be seen written everywhere by Berta's hand, on the garden walls, on the trunks of the trees; and even the vines that covered the pavilion had interlaced their branches in such a manner that "Adrian Baker" could be deciphered in them. This name was to be met everywhere, like the mute echo of an undying memory.
During the morning hours Berta's countenance seemed to be more animated, and her cheeks had even at times a rosy hue; but as the day declined her transient animation faded away, as if the sun of her life too approached its setting.
Seated at her window she contemplated in silence the clouds illumined by the last rays of the setting sun. Juana, who had exhausted in vain all her subjects of conversation, was with her. A sudden brightness hovered over Berta's head for an instant, circled swiftly around it, and then vanished from sight.
"Did you see it?" cried Berta.
"Yes," answered the nurse, "it was a white butterfly that wanted to settle on your head."
"Well?" asked Berta.
"White butterflies," said the nurse, "are a sign of good luck; they always bring good news."
"Yes," answered Berta, pressing her nurse's hand convulsively. "That is my white butterfly, and this time it will not deceive me. Adrian is coming—yes, he is coming for me; that is what it has come to tell me—I was waiting for it."
The nurse gazed at her for a moment with dilated eyes; the setting sun illumined Berta's countenance with a strange light, and the poor woman, unable to support the look which burned in the eyes of the sick girl, bent her head and clasped her hands, saying to herself:
"My God! She has lost her mind!"
The idea that Berta had lost her reason threw the housekeeper into a state of distraction. She would hide herself in the remotest corners of the house to cry by herself. She could not bear alone the burden of so terrible a secret, but to whom could she confide it? How stab the father's heart so cruelly! To tell him that Berta had lost her reason would be to kill him. The good man watched over his daughter with the eyes of love, but love itself made him blind and he did not perceive her madness.
And the housekeeper became every day more and more convinced of the reality of this dreadful misfortune. During the night she stole many times to the sleeping girl's bedside and listened to her calm breathing. No extraordinary change, either in her habits, or her acts, or her words, gave evidence of the wandering of her mind. True; but she was waiting for Adrian Baker and she declared that he would come. It was in vain she tried to persuade her that this was folly, for Berta either grew angry and commanded her to be silent, or smiled with scornful pity at her arguments. Was not this madness?
The housekeeper suddenly lost her appetite and her sleep; and she shunned Berta's father, for she was not sure of being able to keep the secret which she carried in her bosom. The same thought kept revolving in her mind like a mill. It seemed as if Berta's madness was going to cost the nurse also her reason.
One night she lay tossing about, unable to sleep, her imagination filled with dreadful spectres. In the midst of the darkness she saw faces approaching and receding from her, that laughed and wept, that vanished to appear again, and all these faces that danced before her eyes had, notwithstanding their grotesque features, a diabolical likeness to the head of Adrian Baker. The nurse, terrified, shut her eyes, that she might not see them, but notwithstanding she still continued seeing them.
She thought that she was under the influence of a nightmare, and making an effort she sat up in the bed. Suddenly she heard a distant sound of sweet music, a mysterious melody whose notes died away on the breeze.
She listened attentively, and she soon comprehended that the music she heard came from the piano; and she sprang out of bed, crying:
She began to dress herself quickly, groping for her things in the darkness, saying as she did so, in a voice full of anguish:
"Alone, in the pavilion, and at this hour! Child of my heart, you are mad!"
All the visions she had seen disappeared; she saw nothing, she only heard the distant notes of the piano breaking the silence of the night.
Going into the hall she groped her way to Berta's room. She gently pushed in the door, which opened noiselessly, and an indistinct glimmer, like the last gleam of twilight, met her eyes. It was the light of the night-lamp burning softly in its porcelain vase.
Her first glance was at the bed, which, in the indistinct light, presented to her eyes only a shapeless object; but in a moment more she saw that the bed was empty.
She thought of taking the lamp that burned in the corner of the room to light her way and going to the pavilion, but at this moment she felt a breath of cold damp air blowing softly on her face.
She turned her eyes in the direction from which the breeze had come, and observed that the window was wide open and that outside all was profound darkness.
And filled with indescribable amazement, unwilling to believe the evidence of her eyes, she saw what appeared to be a human figure standing motionless in front of the window, its hands clasped and its forehead resting against the window-frame.
A cold perspiration, like that of death, broke out over her; she would have shuddered, but she could not; she attempted to cry out, but her voice died away in her throat; she attempted to fly, but her feet, fastened to the ground, refused to carry her.
With her eyes starting from their sockets, her mouth wide open, and terror depicted on her countenance, she stood as if petrified, without the strength to keep erect or the will to fall.
And in truth she had some reason to be terrified.
Before her stood Berta, leaning motionless against the window, drinking in with rapt attention the notes which at that moment came in a torrent from the piano.
It was not Berta, then, who was breaking the silence of the night with that mysterious music. What unknown hand, what invisible hand was it that drew those sounds from the chords of the piano in the midst of the silence and the solitude of the night! Was what her eyes saw real! Was what her ears were listening to real! Or was it all the dreadful hallucination of a terrible dream!
And this was not all; for the memory of the terrified nurse recalls with a secret shudder those mysterious melodies which now enchain her ear. Yes; through the piano roll sounds like the rumbling of thunder, and strains are heard, now near, now far, that thrill the heart, and tones that fill the soul with terror; through the vibrating chords all the spirits of the other world seem to be speaking in an unknown tongue.
I do not know how long the housekeeper might have stood silent and motionless, under the influence of the terror which mastered her, if Berta had not observed her.
It caused her neither surprise nor alarm to see her nurse there. Approaching her she took her by the hand, and, shaking her gently, said:
"Do you see?—Do you hear?—It is Adrian—Adrian who has come for me; the white butterfly did not deceive me."
The housekeeper had by this time recovered herself sufficiently to pass her hand over her forehead and to rub her eyes.
"I knew that he would come," continued Berta; "I have been waiting for him every day."
The nurse, as if by a supreme effort, drew a deep breath.
"Do you hear those sighs that come from the piano?" said Berta. "It is he; he is calling me; and since you are here, let us go to meet him."
And taking the lamp in her hand as she spoke, she added:
Nurse Juana followed her like a ghost.
They entered the garden and walked toward the pavilion. The pale light of the lamp illumined Berta's countenance, shedding around it a fantastic light that made the surrounding darkness seem more intense.
The nurse felt herself drawn along by Berta; she walked mechanically; a power stronger than her terror impelled her.
In this way they crossed the garden and reached the door of the pavilion. There Berta stopped, and called softly:
But there was no response to her call.
Then they entered the pavilion.
Juana caught hold of Berta to keep from falling, and closed her eyes
The light of the lamp illumined the pavilion, whose solitude seemed startled by this unexpected visit; the piano was open and mute.
"No one!" exclaimed Berta, sighing.
"No one," repeated Juana, opening her eyes.
And so it was; the pavilion was empty.
It is beyond a doubt that Berta's piano has the marvellous quality of making its strings sound without the intervention of the human hand. And this being the case, it must be admitted that this marvellous instrument is, in addition, a consummate musician, for it plays with the skill attained only by great artists.
But since Nurse Juana cannot conceive how a piano can play of itself, without a hand moving the keys, she has decided that in this diabolical affair an invisible hand, the ghostly hand of some spirit from the other world, has intervened.
This supposition is not altogether admissible, for it seems to have been sufficiently proved that spirits do not possess hands. But the nurse does not stop for such fine distinctions, and she firmly believes that the spirit of Adrian Baker is wandering about the villa. Condemned perhaps to eternal torment, he takes pleasure in torturing the living even after his death.
And it is indeed a diabolical amusement, for the serenade is repeated nightly; the family are aroused from sleep; they hasten to the pavilion and the piano becomes silent; they enter it and they find no one. They have observed that the airs played by Berta in the morning are repeated by the piano at night.
Juana is assailed by continual terrors; there is no peace in the house. Berta's father is unable to explain the mystery, and his mind is filled with confusion and his heart is a prey to sudden alarms. The light of day dissipates the agitation of their minds, they fancy themselves the victims of vain hallucinations, and, arming themselves with heroic valor, they make plans for unravelling the awesome mystery.
The most courageous among them would hide in the pavilion, and there await in concealment the hour of the strange occurrence; in this way they would discover what ringers drew those sounds from the piano.
Strong in this purpose they awaited the first shades of night; but then the courage of the strongest failed. The air became filled with fearful shadows, the silence with mysterious noises, and no one ventured to leave the house. They spent the nights in vigil and the terror by which all were possessed made them seem interminable.
And for Berta, on the other hand, the days were interminable, and she awaited the nights with eager impatience.
One afternoon she expressed a desire to visit the ruins of the monastery, and she showed so much eagerness in the matter that there was no resource but to accede to her wish. Her father and her nurse resolved to accompany her, and the three set out.
The distance between the villa and the monastery was not great, but the party walked slowly. In the winding path the ruins disappeared suddenly behind a hill, as if the earth had swallowed them; a few steps further on they suddenly reappeared; and the travellers stood before the ruined portico.
From this point the eye could contemplate the ruined walls, the broken partitions, the ceilings fallen in, and between the loose stones the solitary flowers of the ruin. Only the arches which supported the vaulted roof of the chapel had resisted the corroding influence of time.
The nurse would have now willingly returned to the villa, and Berta's father had no desire to go any further; but Berta passed through the ruined portico, and they were obliged to follow her.
She made her way into the chapel, passing under the crumbling arches which threatened at every moment to fall down and crush her, and she emerged at what must have been the centre of the monastery; for the remains of the wall and some broken and unsteady pilasters showed four paths which, uniting at their extremities, formed a square. This must have been the cloister; in the middle were vestiges of a choked-up cistern.
Here Berta sat down on a piece of cornice which was imbedded in the rubbish. She seemed pleased in the midst of this desolation. Her father and the nurse joined her with terror depicted on their countenances; they had heard the noise of footsteps in the chapel; more, Juana had seen a shadow glide away; how or where she did not know, but she was sure that she had seen it.
Berta smiled and said:
"The noise of footsteps and a shadow? Very well; what harm can those footsteps or that shadow do us? They are perhaps the footsteps of Adrian Baker following us; it is his shade that accompanies us. What is there strange in that? Do you not know that I carry him in my heart? Do you not know that I am waiting for him, that I am always waiting for him?"
At the name of Adrian Baker, Berta's father and the nurse shuddered.
"Yes, my child," said the former, "but we are far from the villa, the sun is setting—it is growing late."
"Yes, yes," said Juana, "let us go back."
Berta drew her father affectionately toward her and said:
"Dear father, I am not mad. Juana, I am not mad. Adrian promised me that he would return, and he will return. I am waiting for him. Why should that be madness? I know that I grieve you, and I do not wish to grieve you. I have begged God a thousand times on my knees to tear his image from my heart and his memory from my mind; but God, who sees all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom all things are possible, has not wished to do it. Why? He alone knows."
The father's eyes filled with tears, and the nurse hid her face in her hands to keep back the sobs that rose in her throat.
"Yes, it is growing late. But I am very tired. Let us wait a moment."
They had nothing to say in answer to her words, nor could they have said anything, for their voices failed them.
All three remained silent.
Suddenly they looked at one another with indescribable anxiety, for all three had heard a sigh, a human sigh that seemed exhaled by the ruins around them.
Could it have been the wind, moaning as it swept through the sharp points of the broken walls?
Berta rose to her feet, and cried twice in a loud voice:
Her voice was borne away on the breeze, losing itself in the distance. But before the last notes died away, another voice resounded among the ruins, saying:
The sun had just set, and the twilight shadows gathered swiftly, as if they had sprung up from among the ruins, hiding the broken pillars and the crumbling walls.
In one of the angles of the cloister appeared a moving shadow. This shadow advanced slowly until it reached the middle of the court where the remains of the disused cistern were seen. There it stopped, and in a soft clear voice uttered the words:
"It is I, Berta; it is I."
"He!" she cried, extending her arms in the air.
Juana uttered a cry of terror and caught hold of Berta with all the strength left her; the father tried to rise, but, unable to sustain himself, fell on his knees beside his daughter.
It was not possible to reject the evidence of their senses. Whatever might be the hidden cause of the marvel, the dark key of the mystery, the shadow which had just appeared in the angle of the cloister was clearly the authentic image, the vera effigies, the very person of Adrian Baker. The astonished eyes of Berta, of her father, and of the nurse could not refuse to believe it.
His fair curls, his pale brow, the outlines of his figure, his air, his glance, his voice—all were there before the amazed eyes of Berta, her father, and the nurse.
Now, was this a fantastic creation of their troubled senses? Was it a phantom of the brain, or a reality? Did all three suffer at the same time the same hallucination? The fixed thought of all three was Adrian Baker—and the senses often counterfeit the reality of our vain imaginings. The state of their minds, the place, the hour—and then, the air produces sounds that deceive; the light and the darkness mingling together in the mysterious hour of twilight people the solitude with strange visions. And in the midst of those ruins, which began to assume fantastic forms, and which seemed to move, in the gathering shades of twilight, Berta, her father, and the nurse might well believe themselves in the presence of a spectre evoked there by their presence.
But the fact was, that the shadow, instead of vanishing, instead of changing its shape, as happens with chimeras of the brain, assumed before their eyes a more distinct form, more definite outlines, according as he approached the group.
Reaching them, he took gently in his the hands Berta held out to him. His eyes shone with the light of a supreme triumph.
"It is I," he said, in a moved voice. "I, Adrian Baker. I am not a spectre risen from the tomb."
Berta felt herself growing faint and was obliged to sit down; and Adrian Baker continued thus:
"Forgive me. I have put your heart to a terrible proof, but the doubts of my soul were still more terrible. The world had filled my spirit with horrible distrust and I desired to sound the uttermost depths of your love. It has resisted absence, and it has resisted death. Your love for me was not a passing fancy; you did not deceive yourself when you vowed me an eternal love. I left you in order to watch you and I died to comprehend you. I have followed you everywhere; I have not separated from you a single moment. My sweet Berta! You waited for me living, and you have waited for me dead. 'If you wait for me,' I said, 'your own heart will announce my return to you,' and you see I have returned. I felt for you an immense tenderness, but a terrible doubt consumed my heart. Had my riches dazzled you? Forgive me, Berta. A fatal learning had frozen faith in my soul; I doubted everything, and I doubted your heart also—I doubted you."
Berta clasped her hands, and raising her eyes to heaven, exclaimed mournfully:
"My God! what cruel injustice!"
"Yes!" burst out Adrian Baker; "cruel injustice! but you have resuscitated my heart; you have brought my soul back to life."
"Ah," said Berta, laying her hands on his breast, "what if it were too late!"
Then, turning to her father and the nurse, she said:
"I feel very cold; let us return to the villa;" and leaning on Adrian Baker's arm, she led the way.
Her father and the nurse followed her in silence. The good man had comprehended everything, but the poor woman comprehended nothing.
What passed that night in the villa it is not necessary to relate; it was a night of pain, of agitation, and of anguish. It was necessary to go to the city for a physician; why? Because Berta was dying. Adrian Baker was the image of despair; the unhappy father wept as if his heart would break, and the nurse stole away from time to time to cry, unable to restrain her tears.
At dawn it was necessary to go again to the city, for the physician of the body had exhausted the resources of science, and they were obliged to have recourse to the physician of the soul.
Dawn was just breaking when a priest alighted at the door of the villa. The sick girl received him, if we may be allowed the expression, with melancholy gladness, and a little later all was over.
In the middle of the room, on a funeral bier, lighted by six large wax tapers, which cast a melancholy light around, lay the body of the dead girl. The window admitted the morning light; and the autumn wind, tearing the dead leaves from the trees in the garden, scattered them over the inanimate form of Berta, as if death thus rendered homage to death.
Attracted by the light of the torches, a white butterfly flew silently in and circled around and around the head of the dead girl.
Watching the body were the father, leaning over the bier, bowed down under the weight of an immeasurable grief; the nurse dissolved in tears; Adrian, with dry and glittering eyes, pale, motionless, mute, terrible in his anguish; and the priest with folded arms and head bent over his breast, murmuring pious prayers.
Such was the scene which the morning sun lighted in Berta's room. The birds of the garden alighted on the rail of the window, but did not venture to enter; they looked in apprehensively and flew away terrified; they twittered on the branches of the trees, and their melancholy chirpings seemed like sighs.
Breathing a sigh torn from the inmost depths of his soul, Adrian Baker exclaimed in a hollow voice:
"Miserable man that I am! I have killed her!"
"Ah, yes," said the priest, slowly shaking his head. "Divine Justice—Doubt kills."