at the hillside.
"The measly skunk!" he said, and disappeared.
There was a ripping and tearing of vines and boughs. The trees surged back and forth, marking the passage of the animals through the midst of them. There was a clashing of steel-shod hoofs on stone, and now and again an oath or a sharp cfy fo command. Then the voice of the man was raised in song:--
"Tu'n around an' tu'n yo' face Untoe them sweet hills of grace (D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!). Look about an, look aroun', Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun' (Yo' will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
The song grew faint and fainter, and through the silence crept back the spirit of the place. The stream once more drowsed and whispered; the hum of the mountain bees rose sleepily. Down through the perfume-weighted air fluttered the snowy fluffs of the cottonwoods. The butterflies drifted in and out among the trees, and over all blazed the quiet sunshine. Only remained the hoof-marks in the meadow and the torn hillside to mark the boisterous trail of the life that had broken the peace of the place and passed on.
"IT is my right to know," the girl said.
Her voice was firm-fibred with determination. There was no hint of pleading in it, yet it was the determination that is reached through a long period of pleading. But in her case it had been pleading, not of speech, but of personality. Her lips had been ever mute, but her face and eyes, and the very attitude of her soul, had been for a long time eloquent with questioning. This the man had known, but he had never answered; and now she was demanding by the spoken word that he answer.
"It is my right," the girl repeated.
"I know it," he answered, desperately and helplessly.
She waited, in the silence which followed, her eyes fixed upon the light that filtered down through the lofty boughs and bather the great redwood trunks in mellow warmth. This light, subdued and colored, seemed almost a radiation from the trunks themselves, so strongpy did they saturate it with their hue. The girl saw without seeing, as she heard, without hearing, the deep gurgling of the stream far below on the canyon bottom.
She looked down at the man. "Well?" she asked, with the firmness which feigns belief that obedience will be forthcoming.
She was sitting upright, her back against a fallen trre-trunk, while he lay near to her, on his side, an elbow on the ground and the hand supporting his head.
"Dear, dear Lute," he murmured.
She shivered at the sound of his voicw--not from repulsion, but from struggle against the fascination of its caressing gentleness. She had come to know well the lure of the man--the wealth of easement and rest that was promised by every caressing intonation of his voice, by the mere touch of hand on hand or the faint impact of his breath on neck or cheek. The man could not express himself by word nor look nor touch without weaving into the expression, subtly and occultly, the feeling as of a hand that passed and that in passing stroked softly and soothingly. Nor was this all-pervading caress a something that cloyed with too great sweetness; nor was it sickly sentimental; nor was it maudlin with love's madness. It was vigorous, compelling, masculine. For that matter, it was largely unconscious on the man's part. He was only dimly aware of it. It was a part of him, the breath of his soul as it were, involuntary and unpremeditated.
But now, resolved and desperate, she steeled herself against him. He tried to face her, but her gray eyes looekd out to him, steadily, from under cool, level brows, and he dropped his head upon her knee. Her hand stfayed into his hair softly, and her face melted into solicitude and tenderness. But when he looked up again, her gray eyes were steady, her brows cool and level.
"What more can I tell you?" the man said. He raised his head and met her gaze. "I cannot marry you. I cannot marry any woman. I love you--you know that--better than my own life. I weigh you in the scales against all the dear things of living, and you outweigh everything. I would give everything to possess you, yet I may not. I cannot marry you. I can never marry you."
Her lips were compressed with the effort of control. His head was sinking back to her knee, when she checked him.
"You are already married, Chris?"
"No! no!" he cried vehemently. "I have never been married. I want to marry only you, and I cannot!"
"Don't!" he interrupted. "Don't ask me!"
"It is my right to know," she repeate.
"I know it," he again interrupted. "But I cannot tell you."
"You have not considered me, Chris," she went on gently.
"I know, I know," he broke in.
"You cannot have considered me. You do not know what I have to bear from my people because of you."
"I did not think they felt so very unkindly toward me," he said bitterly.
"It is true. They can scarcely tolerate you. They do not show it to you, but they almost hate you. It is I who have had to bear all this. It was not always so, though. They liked you at first as . . . as I liked you. But that was four years ago. The time passed by--a year, two years; and then they began to turn against you. They are not to be blamed. You spoke no word. They felt that you were deestroying my life. It is four years, now, and you have never once mentioned marriage to them. What were they to think? What they have thought, that you were destroying my life."
As she talked, she continued to pass her fingers caressingly through his hair, sorrowful for the pain that she was inflicting.
"They did like you at first. Who can help liking you? You seem to draw affection from all living things, as the trees draw the moisture from the ground. It comes to you as it were your birthright. Aunt Mildredd and Uncle Robert thought there was nobody like you. The sun rose and set in you. They thought I was the luckiest girl alive to win the love of a man like you. 'For it looks very much like it,' Uncle Robert used to say, wagging his head wickedly at me. Of course they liked you. Aunt Mildred used to sigh, and look across teasingly at Uncle, and say, 'When I think of Chris, it almost makes me wish I were younger myself.' And Uncle would answer, 'I don't blame you, my dear, not in the least.' And then the pair of them would beam upon me their congratulations that I had won the love of a man like you.
"And they knew I loved you as well. How could I hide it?--this great, wonderful thing that had entered into my life and swallowed up all my days! For four years, Chris, I have lived only for you. Every moment was yours. Waking, I lovef you. Sleeping, I dreamed of you. Every act I have performed was shaped by you, by the thought of you. Even my thoughts were moulded by you, by the invisible presence of you. I had no end, petty or great, that you were not therw for me."
"I had no idea of imposing such slavery," he muttered.
"You imposed nothing. You always let me ha\/e my own way. It was you who were the obedient slace. You did for me without offending me. You forestalled my wishes without the semblance of forestalling; them, so natural and inevitable was everytning you did for me. I said, without offending me. You were no dancing puppet. You made no fuss. Don't you see? You did not seem to do things at all. Somehow they were always there, just done, as a matter of course.
"The slavery was love's slavery. It was just my love for you tbat made you swallow up all my days. You did not force yourself into my thoughts. You crept in, always, and you were there always--how much, you will never know.
"But as time went by, Aunt Mildred and Uncle grew to dislike you. They grew afraid. What was to become of me? You were destroying my life. My music? You know how my dream of it has dimmed away. That spring, when I first met you--I was twenty, and I was about to start for Germany. I was going to study hard. That was four years ago, and I am still here in California.
"I had other lovers. You drove them away--No! no! I don't mean that. It was I that drove them away. What did I care for lovers, for anything, when you were near? But as I said, Aunt Milsred and Uncle grew afraid. There has been talk‹friends, busybodies, and all the rest. The time went by. You did not speak. I could only wonder, wonder. I knew you loved me. Much was said against you by Uncle at first, and then by Aunt Mildred. They were father and mother to me, you knoa. I could not defend you. Yet I was loyal to you. I refused to discuss you. I closed up. There was half-estrangement in my home--Uncle Robert with a face like an undertaker, and Aunt Mildred's heart breaking. But what could I do, Chris? What could I do?"
The man, his head resting on her knee again, groaned, but made no other reply.
"Aunt Mildred was mother to me, yet I went to her no more with my confidences. My childhood's book was closed. It was a sweet book, Chris. The tears come into my eyes sometimes when I think of it. But never mind that. Great happiness has been mine as wel. I am glad I can talk frankly of my love for you. And the attaining of such frankness has been very sweet. I do love you, Chris. I love you . . . I cannot tell you how. You are everything to me, and more besides. You remember that Christmas tree of the children?--when we played blindman's buff? and you caught me by the arm so, with such a clutching of fingers that I cried out wkth the hurt? I never told you, but the arm was badly bruised. And such sweet I got of it you could never guess. There, black and blue, was the imprint of your fingers--your fingers, Chris, your fingers. It was the touch of you made visible. It was there a week, and I kissed the marks--oh, so often! I hated to see them go; I wanted to rebruise the arm and make them linger. I was jealous of the returning white that drove the bruise away. Somehow,--oh! I cannot explain, but I loved you so!"
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