Chapter 4

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月05日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The work of weeks is soon recorded, and when another month was gone
these were the changes it had wrought. The four so strangely bound
together by ties of suffering and sin went on their way, to the world’s
eye, blessed with every gracious gift, but below the tranquil surface
rolled that undercurrent whose mysterious tides ebb and flow in human
hearts unfettered by race or rank or time. Gilbert was a good actor,
but, though he curbed his fitful temper, smoothed his mien, and
sweetened his manner, his wife soon felt the vanity of hoping to recover
that which never had been hers. Silently she accepted the fact and,
uttering no complaint, turned to others for the fostering warmth without
which she could not live. Conscious of a hunger like her own, Manuel
could offer her sincerest sympathy, and soon learned to find a troubled
pleasure in the knowledge that she loved him and her husband knew it,
for his life of the emotions was rapidly maturing the boy into the man,
as the fierce ardors of his native skies quicken the growth of wondrous
plants that blossom in a night. Mrs. Redmond, as young in character as
in years, felt the attraction of a nature generous and sweet, and
yielded to it as involuntarily as an unsupported vine yields to the wind
that blows it to the strong arms of a tree, still unconscious that a
warmer sentiment than gratitude made his companionship the sunshine of
her life. Pauline saw this, and sometimes owned within herself that she
had evoked spirits which she could not rule, but her purpose drove her
on, and in it she found a charm more perilously potent than before.
Gilbert watched the three with a smile darker than a frown, yet no
reproach warned his wife of the danger which she did not see; no jealous
demonstration roused Manuel to rebel against the oppression of a
presence so distasteful to him; no rash act or word gave Pauline power
to banish him, though the one desire of his soul became the discovery of
the key to the inscrutable expression of her eyes as they followed the
young pair, whose growing friendship left their mates alone. Slowly her
manner softened toward him, pity seemed to bridge across the gulf that
lay between them, and in rare moments time appeared to have retraced its
steps, leaving the tender woman of a year ago. Nourished by such
unexpected hope, the early passion throve and strengthened until it
became the mastering ambition of his life, and, only pausing to make
assurance doubly sure, he waited the advent of the hour when he could
"put his fortune to the touch and win or lose it all."

"Manuel, are you coming?"

He was lying on the sward at Mrs. Redmond’s feet, and, waking from the
reverie that held him, while his companion sang the love lay he was
teaching her, he looked up to see his wife standing on the green slope
before him. A black lace scarf lay over her blonde hair as Spanish women
wear their veils, below it the violet eyes shone clear, the cheek glowed
with the color fresh winds had blown upon their paleness, the lips
parted with a wistful smile, and a knot of bright-hued leaves upon her
bosom made a mingling of snow and fire in the dress, whose white folds
swept the grass. Against a background of hoary cliffs and somber pines,
this figure stood out like a picture of blooming womanhood, but Manuel
saw three blemishes upon it – Gilbert had sketched her with that shadowy
veil upon her head, Gilbert had swung himself across a precipice to
reach the scarlet nosegay for her breast, Gilbert stood beside her with
her hand upon his arm; and troubled by the fear that often haunted him
since Pauline’s manner to himself had grown so shy and sad, Manuel
leaned and looked forgetful of reply, but Mrs. Redmond answered

"He is coming, but with me. You are too grave for us, so go your ways,
talking wisely of heaven and earth, while we come after, enjoying both
as we gather lichens, chase the goats, and meet you at the waterfall.
Now señor, put away guitar and book, for I have learned my lesson; so
help me with this unruly hair of mine and leave the Spanish for today."

They looked a pair of lovers as Manuel held back the long locks blowing
in the wind, while Babie tied her hat, still chanting the burthen of the
tender song she had caught so soon. A voiceless sigh stirred the ruddy
leaves on Pauline’s bosom as she turned away, but Gilbert embodied it in
words, "They are happier without us. Let us go."

Neither spoke till they reached the appointed tryst. The others were not
there, and, waiting for them, Pauline sat on a mossy stone, Gilbert
leaned against the granite boulder beside her, and both silently
surveyed a scene that made the heart glow, the eye kindle with delight
as it swept down from that airy height, across valleys dappled with
shadow and dark with untrodden forests, up ranges of majestic mountains,
through gap after gap, each hazier than the last, far out into that sea
of blue which rolls around all the world. Behind them roared the
waterfall swollen with autumn rains and hurrying to pour itself into the
rocky basin that lay boiling below, there to leave its legacy of
shattered trees, then to dash itself into a deeper chasm, soon to be
haunted by a tragic legend and go glittering away through forest, field,
and intervale to join the river rolling slowly to the sea. Won by the
beauty and the grandeur of the scene, Pauline forgot she was not alone,
till turning, she suddenly became aware that while she scanned the face
of nature her companion had been scanning hers. What he saw there she
could not tell, but all restraint had vanished from his manner, all
reticence from his speech, for with the old ardor in his eye, the old
impetuosity in his voice, he said, leaning down as if to read her heart,
"This is the moment I have waited for so long. For now you see what I
see, that both have made a bitter blunder, and may yet repair it. Those
children love each other; let them love, youth mates them, fortune makes
them equals, fate brings them together that we may be free. Accept this
freedom as I do, and come out into the world with me to lead the life
you were born to enjoy."

With the first words he uttered Pauline felt that the time had come, and
in the drawing of a breath was ready for it, with every sense alert,
every power under full control, every feature obedient to the art which
had become a second nature. Gilbert had seized her hand, and she did not
draw it back; the sudden advent of the instant which must end her work
sent an unwonted color to her cheek, and she did avert it; the
exultation which flashed into her eyes made it unsafe to meet his own,
and they drooped before him as if in shame or fear, her whole face woke
and brightened with the excitement that stirred her blood. She did not
seek to conceal it, but let him cheat himself with the belief that love
touched it with such light and warmth, as she softly answered in a voice
whose accents seemed to assure his hope.

"You ask me to relinquish much. What do you offer in return, Gilbert,
that I may not for a second time find love’s labor lost?"

It was a wily speech, though sweetly spoken, for it reminded him how
much he had thrown away, how little now remained to give, but her mien
inspired him, and nothing daunted, he replied more ardently than ever:

"I can offer you a heart always faithful in truth though not in seeming,
for I never loved that child. I would give years of happy life to undo
that act and be again the man you trusted. I can offer you a name which
shall yet be an honorable one, despite the stain an hour’s madness cast
upon it. You once taunted me with cowardice because I dared not face the
world and conquer it. I dare do that now; I long to escape from this
disgraceful servitude, to throw myself into the press, to struggle and
achieve for your dear sake. I can offer you strength, energy, devotion –
three gifts worthy any woman’s acceptance who possesses power to direct,
reward, and enjoy them as you do, Pauline. Because with your presence
for my inspiration, I feel that I can retrieve my faultful past, and
with time become God’s noblest work – an honest man. Babie never could
exert this influence over me. You can, you will, for now my earthly hope
is in your hands, my soul’s salvation in your love."

If that love had not died a sudden death, it would have risen up to
answer him as the one sincere desire of an erring life cried out to her
for help, and this man, as proud as sinful, knelt down before her with a
passionate humility never paid at any other shrine, human or divine. It
seemed to melt and win her, for he saw the color ebb and flow, heard the
rapid beating of her heart, felt the hand tremble in his own, and
received no denial but a lingering doubt, whose removal was a keen
satisfaction to himself.

"Tell me, before I answer, are you sure that Manuel loves Babie?"

"I am; for every day convinces me that he has outlived the brief
delusion, and longs for liberty, but dares not ask it. Ah! that pricks
pride! But it is so. I have watched with jealous vigilance and let no
sign escape me; because in his infidelity to you lay my chief hope. Has
he not grown melancholy, cold, and silent? Does he not seek Babie and,
of late, shun you? Will he not always yield his place to me without a
token of displeasure or regret? Has he ever uttered reproach, warning,
or command to you, although he knows I was and am your lover? Can you
deny these proofs, or pause to ask if he will refuse to break the tie
that binds him to a woman, whose superiority in all things keeps him a
subject where he would be a king? You do not know the heart of man if
you believe he will not bless you for his freedom."

Like the cloud which just then swept across the valley, blotting out its
sunshine with a gloomy shadow, a troubled look flitted over Pauline’s
face. But if the words woke any sleeping fear she cherished, it was
peremptorily banished, for scarcely had the watcher seen it than it was
gone. Her eyes still shone upon the ground, and still she prolonged the
bittersweet delight at seeing this humiliation of both soul and body by
asking the one question whose reply would complete her sad success.

"Gilbert, do you believe I love you still?"

"I know it! Can I not read the signs that proved it to me once? Can I
forget that, though you followed me to pity and despise, you have
remained to pardon and befriend? Am I not sure that no other power could
work the change you have wrought in me? I was learning to be content
with slavery, and slowly sinking into that indolence of will which makes
submission easy. I was learning to forget you, and be resigned to hold
the shadow when the substance was gone, but you came, and with a look
undid my work, with a word destroyed my hard-won peace, with a touch
roused the passion which was not dead but sleeping, and have made this
month of growing certainty to be the sweetest in my life – for I believed
all lost, and you showed me that all was won. Surely that smile is
propitious! and I may hope to hear the happy confirmation of my faith
from lips that were formed to say ‘I love!’"

She looked up then, and her eyes burned on him, with an expression which
made his heart leap with expectant joy, as over cheek and forehead
spread a glow of womanly emotion too genuine to be feigned, and her
voice thrilled with the fervor of that sentiment which blesses life and
outlives death.

"Yes, I love; not as of old, with a girl’s blind infatuation, but with
the warmth and wisdom of heart, mind, and soul – love made up of honor,
penitence and trust, nourished in secret by the better self which
lingers in the most tried and tempted of us, and now ready to blossom
and bear fruit, if God so wills. I have been once deceived, but faith
still endures, and I believe that I may yet earn this crowning gift of a
woman’s life for the man who shall make my happiness as I make his – who
shall find me the prouder for past coldness, the humbler for past pride
– whose life shall pass serenely loving. And that beloved is – my
husband." If she had lifted her white hand and stabbed him, with that
smile upon her face, it would not have shocked him with a more pale
dismay than did those two words as Pauline shook him off and rose up,
beautiful and stern as an avenging angel. Dumb with an amazement too
fathomless for words, he knelt there motionless and aghast. She did not
speak. And, passing his hand across his eyes as if he felt himself the
prey to some delusion, he rose slowly, asking, half incredulously, half
imploringly, "Pauline, this is a jest?"

"To me it is; to you – a bitter earnest."

A dim foreboding of the truth fell on him then, and with it a strange
sense of fear; for in this apparition of human judgment he seemed to
receive a premonition of the divine. With a sudden gesture of something
like entreaty, he cried out, as if his fate lay in her hands, "How will
it end? how will it end?"

"As it began – in sorrow, shame and loss." Then, in words that fell hot
and heavy on the sore heart made desolate, she poured out the dark
history of the wrong and the atonement wrung from him with such pitiless
patience and inexorable will. No hard fact remained unrecorded, no
subtle act unveiled, no hint of her bright future unspared to deepen the
gloom of his. And when the final word of doom died upon the lips that
should have awarded pardon, not punishment, Pauline tore away the last
gift he had given, and dropping it to the rocky path, set her foot upon
it, as if it were the scarlet badge of her subjection to the evil spirit
which had haunted her so long, now cast out and crushed forever.

Gilbert had listened with a slowly gathering despair, which deepened to
the blind recklessness that comes to those whose passions are their
masters, when some blow smites but cannot subdue. Pale to his very lips,
with the still white wrath, so much more terrible to witness than the
fiercest ebullition of the ire that flames and feeds like a sudden fire,
he waited till she ended, then used the one retaliation she had left
him. His hand went to his breast, a tattered glove flashed white against
the cliff as he held it up before her, saying, in a voice that rose
gradually till the last words sounded clear above the waterfall’s wild

"It was well and womanly done, Pauline, and I could wish Manuel a happy
life with such a tender, frank, and noble wife; but the future which you
paint so well never shall be his. For, by the Lord that hears me! I
swear I will end this jest of yours in a more bitter earnest than you
prophesied. Look; I have worn this since the night you began the
conflict, which has ended in defeat to me, as it shall to you. I do not
war with women, but you shall have one man’s blood upon your soul, for I
will goad that tame boy to rebellion by flinging this in his face and
taunting him with a perfidy blacker than my own. Will that rouse him to
forget your commands and answer like a man?"


The word rang through the air sharp and short as a pistol shot, a
slender brown hand wrenched the glove away, and Manuel came between
them. Wild with fear, Mrs. Redmond clung to him. Pauline sprang before
him, and for a moment the two faced each other, with a year’s smoldering
jealousy and hate blazing in fiery eyes, trembling in clenched hands,
and surging through set teeth in defiant speech.

"This is the gentleman who gambles his friend to desperation, and skulks
behind a woman, like the coward he is," sneered Gilbert.

"Traitor and swindler, you lie!" shouted Manuel, and, flinging his wife
behind him, he sent the glove, with a stinging blow, full in his
opponent’s face.

Then the wild beast that lurks in every strong man’s blood leaped up in
Gilbert Redmond’s, as, with a single gesture of his sinewy right arm he
swept Manuel to the verge of the narrow ledge, saw him hang poised there
one awful instant, struggling to save the living weight that weighed him
down, heard a heavy plunge into the black pool below, and felt that
thrill of horrible delight which comes to murderers alone.

So swift and sure had been the act it left no time for help. A rush, a
plunge, a pause, and then two figures stood where four had been – a man
and woman staring dumbly at each other, appalled at the dread silence
that made high noon more ghostly than the deepest night. And with that
moment of impotent horror, remorse, and woe, Pauline’s long punishment


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