The Path, April, 1891.
That peculiar stillness which pervades a house in spring when first emptied of winter occupations reigns within the Manse, and overflowing through the open windows seems to rest upon the world without. The late afternoon sunshine falls through a bow-window into a room which still retains the warm colors of winter furnishings. The broad flecked band of yellow light travels slowly across the floor, embracing the brightness of a knot of half-knitted crewels lying quite over the edge of a small workbasket; and creeping over the brown cover of a book which rests with open leaves, face downward, upon a low stool pushed half within the curve of the window, melts into a mellow fellowship with the shadowy angles of the room.
The Herr Professor detects, by some subtle sense, that in spite of the stillness the non-occupation of the room is but recent. As he takes in the place and its influence at a glance, there is more than usual that air of mystery and removal from things of common interest about him which has led Miss Volumnia to declare him enough to "freeze one's blood". However that may be, the eyes which have mainly been instrumental in reducing her life currents to that state of congelation - eyes dark to the verge of blackness, but deeply blue - now looking the room over, lead their possessor to cross the floor; to lift and wind the tangled crewels; to take up the needle, impale the ball, and deposit both in the basket. And this with the air of offering knightly service to some invisible presence. Approaching the window he raises a hand to intercept the too broad Western light, and scanning the lawn, the gravel walk, then the edges of the near sketch of trees, he calls, in a voice uncommonly deep, yet smooth with a certain rich tenderness, "Margarite".
No answer. He turns again into the room, and sinking his still almost emaciated person into the cushions of a chair, lifts the book from the stool.
"Zanoni", he says, and Falls into an idle notice of the contents.
Mrs. Armitage, passing the door, sees the evident comfort of the semi-invalid and goes on her way, putting him off her mind to take thereon some matters of the early Tea.
Had the Herr Van Earnst possessed the power of sending his magnetic glances over distance, he would have seen, before fixing his eyes upon the open page of Margarite's late reading, that she is loitering homeward from the opposite point of the compass to his look from the window, and that she has the company of Paul. Did Van Earnst confess, even to himself; the indefinable unrest into which Paul Wingate's very frequent presence at the Manse threw him? Types of seemingly opposite phases of civilization, the two men might have been born on different planets, so unlike are their characteristics and temperaments. Van Earnst possessing that well-conserved nerve-force and largeness of front brain which indicates a nature strong, but ideal to the verge of mysticism - a nature fine and sensitive, but dominated by a will as subtle and unyielding as Damascus steel. The other having that fresh alertness and easy comradeship with the common affairs of life which indexes a disposition toward thorough enjoyment of the surface pleasures of the world. A certain freedom of bearing and brightness of manner puts him quite in contrast to Van Earnst's philosophical gravity, and at this moment, as Paul and Margarite emerge from the long shadows of the shrubbery into the full but now almost level light upon the lawn, she is the recipient of his gayest and happiest attentions.
An observer would have turned at once to regard Margarite. Her whole presence seems instinct with life, - a well expended vitality, but so nicely balanced as to give an idea of quick, sympathetic changes under even chance conditions. She seems, in the motions of her lithe figure and the swiftly shifting lights and shadows of feeling which come and go upon the features, to be a part of some hidden riches of life and beauty, which eludes the understanding almost in the moment of revealing itself. As she walks, she seems bearing along with her presence all the varied influences of the spring evening, and wrapped about with the warm airs and full life running riot under the blue heavens.
The look of dreamy speculation which drapes the features of Van Earnst as he reads on within, changes to one of confused discontent upon catching sight of the two figures approaching across the grass. But there is much to appease his dissatisfaction in Margarite's manner as soon as she raises her eyes to the window. Leaving Paul to follow, she comes quickly within to Van Earnst, saying:
"You are down! How well you seem! But you are alone. Where is the dear Mutterling?" Still using toward him the considerate, slightly-caressing manner which has grown upon them all by reason of his late illness.
"Not alone, as you see", sweeping his hand across the book. "Is it yours or Paul's? But I need not ask that about Paul the humorous, I think."
"Mine," she says. Then turning to Paul who comes into the room more leisurely, "Prepare to defend yourself, Sir Laggard, from a deserved thrust. The Herr Professor doubts your appreciation of mystical subtleties."
"So he may, if he does not doubt my common sense," says Paul. "But if that book, which Herr Van Earnst holds outside his front finger, be a fair showing for the Mystics, I should say they would blink and stumble in walking abroad in the light of this century. 'Tis a kind of thing that is blown, - well blown out, in fact; defunct; and buried, along with witchcraft, too deep to come up again."
"How he caps the whole vast field with the broad extinguisher of common sense! What remains?" says Margarite, pushing the stool a trifle nearer Van Earnst and seating herself upon it.
"Surely," ventures Paul, "it cannot he thought in seriousness that the fossil superstitions of dead ages can ever again come out of the corners to which science has consigned them."
"It is easy," says Margarite, "to give the name of superstition to things that are unknown. Surely the old Mystics and their modern followers made honest search into phenomena which still remain as mysterious as ever."
"From what limbo can you resurrect a philosophy which grew only in the be-fogged brains of the Magicians: where are the facts? That's the test," says Paul, smiling.
"Their Philosophy must have grown from some truth to have lived at all", she ventures.
"Flights of over wrought fancy," he responds with a large manner, and, moving, leans against the facing of the window. Van Earnst also moves in his chair, bringing his face towards both Paul and Margarite, and making an angle of the positions of the three.
"Has the Master no interest?" asks Margarite, looking up at Van Earnst.
"I will give you the thought of one of those same Mystics," he says, coming out of a seeming indifference. "A total falsehood is an impossibility. The finest imagination is, in essence, the nearest approach to an actual truth."
"Thanks," from Margarite.
"Mr. Wingate," he continues, "mistakes, perhaps, the vanity of some modern writers who seem to know the philosophy of the Mystics, but truly know it not, for the ground work of fact which alone made, and makes now, magical practices possible. Your Englishman," touching the book, "is lost in a labyrinth. He misses the golden thread which would guide to truth." Then, after a moment, "Truth is not apt to dwell long in corners."
"I hadn't a thought of running a tilt, I assure you," says Paul, flushing. "But. Sir, can any modern seriously entertain such notions as the reality of under-worlds, organization of imponderable elements, and the rest of it?"
"'The rest of it remains a very wide expanse," Van Earnst answers gravely. "When one thinks of matter as only phenomena, as the body and expression of an unseen cause, the invisible becomes the real. Sensation knows only phenomena. Body is the phenomenon called matter. In the realms of the imponderables, then, are to be sought the basic principles, the primal stuff, of things."
"About organization?" asks Margarite, as he stops with the manner of having quite finished.
"No effect," he resumes, "can go beyond the cause. As there is organization in the phenomena of life called ponderable matter, there must be a far more facile power in the imponderables. Will is the organizing force, and matter, seen and unseen, the material in which it works. Could you see a projection of your will upon some point of space in the room, who can say that you would not see, also, the invisible elements crystalizing about it in forms of your own choice?"
Van Earnst moves with a movement of Margarite's, still keeping the angle of their position. She knows that his eyes, which glow through the gathering twilight, are bent upon her. She raises her own and receives into them the long, fixed intentness of his gaze. She feels a quick conflict of purpose to stay, then to fly from his look. Though but a moment, it seems a long experience before her lessening uncertainty and gathering powerlessness are relieved by the entrance of Miss Volumnia, followed by a servant bearing the Tea things.
Affecting an air of gallantry and solicitude, Paul comes forward with
"Oh! Miss Volumnia, do you remember the archaic eye-glasses exhumed from the depths of the garden, and which you decided after due tests to be very superior indeed?"
"I have lost them. And have searched the shops in vain for others so good," responds Miss Volumnia, with an accent of irreparable loss.
"Be comforted. Behold I bring You sight!" he says, presenting her the glasses with an air.
"You found them!" exclaims Miss Volumnia, releasing her hold upon a cup and saucer to adjust the glasses to her eyes. "Indeed this is comfortable. I see perfectly. See, Margarite! See, Mr. Van Earnst!", delighted by the very visible plumpness of the hand which she holds in front of her eyes.
"Perhaps, my dear Miss Reid," says Paul with signs of withheld laughter all over his face, "perhaps they can be farther improved. Just add a trifle more of clearness to them by a little polish."
Withdrawing a silk handkerchief of varied plaids from the reticule at her side, Miss Volumnia proceeds to apply the soft folds to the supposed surface of the glass. Discovering, as her fingers meet upon the silk, that she holds only the rusty setting for a pair of glasses, she looks at Paul with a mixed expression of surprise and vexation, in which is visible the conviction that she beholds in him a compound of very great wickedness.
"Indeed, Miss Volumnia," he manages to say through his laughter, the glasses were never there. At least, not since they fell into the hands of this generation. Let me hasten to assure you of the uselessness of such an aid to one so far from age as yourself. One so attractive - in fact, one so full of personal charms that you may yet - ." Both Miss Volumnia's hands fly into the air, like white birds, in interruption. Her lace cap-strings tremble with dread, communicated from the fluttering of her heart, that the cloistered reserve of that citadel is about to be violated by a mention of the tender passion.
"Oh don't, Mr. Wingate! don't! don't! you are enough to - to - freeze one's blood."
A night of natural and dreamless sleep has not served to rid Margarite of the spell under which Van Earnst's gaze has thrown her. On the contrary, the strange, persistent influence has gathered strength with the freshness of a new morning.
A vague, disturbed delight, dimly prophetic of equally vague events, possessed her first waking thoughts, to follow her through the day. Over and around all occupations, innumerable threads of unusual influence net her, weaving and interweaving about her in perplexed intricacy. Any effort of her will to face these indefinable impressions seems to open to her sight an immeasurable space, filled with tumultuous shadows, down the intricate shiftings of which an unwavering line of light comes to fasten upon herself. As often as she traces this line to its source, it ends in a vision of the steady gaze of Van Earnst's eyes.
She encounters the real eyes but once during the day, and then a door opens wide through them, and a bewildering impression of suddenly becoming the center of vast stretches of distance comes over her. Side by side in her mind with this weird condition is the belief that to bring these strange images to a well-ordered use needs only a power which she can compel at any moment.
The sun leans westward, then dips below the world, drawing after him the close web of light which by day intercepts the messenger of the stars.
Paul will be in the village until late. The evening is soft enough to allow the semi-invalid to linger out of doors; which pleasure he seems inclined to prolong as far as possible. He walks and returns over the garden path amid the fresh odors of newly-leafing plants.
The twilight lingers outside, though it rapidly darkens within, where Margarite sits withdrawn a little distance from the low window.
With head resting on the back of her chair, and eyes closed, seemingly passive in body and mind, the veins upon her temples yet pulse in unison with the moods of the last twenty-four hours.
Van Earnst in his walk passes and re-passes the window. He knows that she is there. He notes the pose of her figure; the fold of her dress upon the floor; the turn of her head upon the chair; the whiteness of her hand, a piece of chiseling upon her dark dress.
Paul lingers too late perhaps. Night fills the room. Still Van Earnst walks without, and Margarite remains in her dream. The darkness folds itself about her, tucking her in.
Suddenly a touch, too delicate to be more than an intimation of contact, falls upon the hand lying upon her dress. She moves it languidly, dreaming on. Again a touch, and this time across her face, as if a wing stirred the air close about her. Knowing herself to be alone, she allows a smile at the tricks of the wind. In a moment, without other warning, a soft warmth falls upon her cheek as if small hands sought wanderingly in the dark. Instinctively she throws out both her own, closing them over tiny shoulders inconceivably soft and warm. Passing her hand rapidly over the small, palpitating orm, her senses reel to find a downy wing pendant from each shoulder. Pressing the warm, fluttering creature to her side, though confused and bewildered, it is but the work of a moment to cross the floor and turn a full light upon the room. Oh, carnival of unreality! within the curve of her arm she sees nothing but the downward sweep of her dress and the figures woven upon the carpet, yet touches a warm, quivering form, and hears low breathing. The confusion of her mind becoming too great for self-control, she weeps in frightened bewilderment. Her tears failing upon the mysterious creature, combined with her continued hold upon it, seem to cause it pain. It moves uneasily in her clasp.
"Mother," she calls in her fright. Yes! some one comes! and Paul enters, bringing with him the world of sanity and common sense.
"Paul! Paul! what is this that I hold in my arm?" she cries.
"Nothing, clearly," he answers, in a fresh tone, "though I miss the point of the conundrum."
Then seeing the pain in her face, he comes rapidly to her, saying, "You are in distress, Margarite; what is it?"
"Touch and speak quickly," she appeals.
Puzzled, he passes his hand over the space in the curve of her arm, and a bewilderment equal to her own instantly takes hold upon him. "Great Heavens! what is it?", he says.
The remnant of her self-control would have deserted her on hearing confirmation in Paul's words, but the restless tossing of the little creature diverts her feeling into the channel of compassion. It seems to moan, and its movements are unlike its first soft freedom.
"We have hurt it. Why, are we afraid of so helpless a thing?", and crossing the room she lays it gently amidst the cushions of the lounge. At this moment Van Earnst comes from without, stepping into the room through the low window. Margarite flies to him. Drawing him to the lounge, she presses his hand down upon the cushions.
"Poor little visitor! you have used him roughly," he says without any surprise. Both listeners fail to notice the peculiar quiet in his voice.
The shifting indentations upon the lounge again arouse all Margarite's compassion. She kneels upon the floor and bends her head in listening. After a time there is stillness, and she lays her hand lightly upon the cushion. It is there, but seeming to melt from under her touch. She feels an eager wish to detain the rapidly-fading form.
Paul and Van Earnst stand gravely regarding her hand, curved slightly aver a gradually lessening space, until it rests at last only on the lounge.
Instantly, without other question, she raises her eyes to Van Earnst. Again that thread of light across immeasurable space! Again the conviction that power itself can be compelled!
She rises to her feet, fronting him. A smile of exquisite fineness and depth plays over his features. His lips move, and Margarite hears -
"Conceptions can be projected upon consciousness as reality. Will is organizing power."
Last Update : January