Monday, 2 November 2015

ONE DAY Part VII

      Opal wept for pity of him, and for herself, but she faced the futurebravely. She would always be his guiding star, to beckon him upward! "And, Opal, my darling, " Paul went on, "I promise you to live hencefortha life of which you shall be proud. I will be brave and true and nobleand great and pure--to prove my gratitude to the gods for giving me thisone day--for giving me you, dearest--and your love--your wonderful love!I _will_ be worthy, dear--I will! I'll be your knight--yourLauncelot--and you shall be my Guenevere! I will always wear your colorsin my heart, dear--the red-brown of your hair, the glorious hazel ofyour eyes, the flush of your soft cheek, the rose of your sweet lips, the virgin whiteness of your soul!"

      Opal looked at him with eyes brimming with pride. Young as he was, hewas indeed every inch a king. 

      And she had crowned him king of her heart and soul and life before shehad known! Oh, the wonder of it!--the strange, sweet wonder of it! _He_, who might have loved and mated where he would, had chosen her to be hislove! She could not realize it. It was almost beyond belief, shethought, that she--plain little Opal Ledoux--could stir such a nature ashis to such a depth as she knew she had stirred it. Ah, the gods had been good to her! They had sent her the PrinceCharming, and he had wakened her with his kiss--that first kiss--howwell she remembered it--and how utterly she belonged to him!

      Then she remembered that, however much they tried to deceive themselves, there was a to-morrow--a to-morrow that would surely come--a to-morrowin which they would not belong to each other at all. He would belong tothe world. She would belong to a--

      She sprang up at the recollection, and drew the curtains of the windowcloser together. 

      "We will shut out the cold, inquisitive, prying old world, " she said. "It shall not look, shall not listen! It is a hard, cruel world, myPaul. It would say that I must not put my arms around your neck--likethis--must not lay my cheek against yours--so--must not let my heartfeel the wild throbbing of yours--and why? Because I do not wear yourring, Paul--that's all!"

      She held up her white hand for his inspection, and surveyed itcritically. "See, Paul--there is no glittering, golden fetter to hold me to you withthe power of an iron band, and so I must not--let you hold me to you atall"

      They both laughed merrily, and then Paul, pulling her down on his kneeand holding her face against his own, whispered, "What care we for theold world? It is as sad and mad and bad as we are--if we only knew! Andwho knows how much worse? It has petty bickerings, damning lies of spiteand malice, trickery and thievery and corruption on its conscience. Letthe little people of the world prate of their little things! We arefree, dearest--and we defy it, don't we? Our ideals are never lost. Andideals are the life of love. Is love--a love like ours--a murderer oflife?"

      "Sometimes, Paul--sometimes! I fear it--I do fear it!"

      "Never fear, Opal, my beloved! You need not fear anything--anywhere! Iwill stand between you and the world, dear--between you and hell itself!My God, girl, how I love you! Opal! My Opal! My heart aches with theimmensity of it! Come, my love, my queen, my treasure, come! We have notmany more hours to--live! And I want you close, close--all mine! Ah, Opal, we are masters of life and death! All earth, all heaven, and--hellitself, cannot take you from me now!"

      Oh, if scone moments in life could only be eternal!
      And the day--died!

      The sun sank beneath the western horizon; the moon cast her silverysheen over the weary world; the twinkling stars appeared in the jewelleddiadem of night; and the silence of evening settled over mountain andlake and swaying tree, while the two who had dared all things for thesake of this one day, looked into each other's eyes now with a suddenrealization of the end. 

      They had not allowed themselves once to think of the hour of separation. 

      And now it was upon them! And they were not ready to part. 

      "How do people say good-by forever, Paul?--people who love as we love?How do they say it, dear? Tell me!"

      "But it is not forever, Opal. Don't you know that you will always bepart of my life--my soul-life, which is the only true one--itssanctifying inspiration? You must not forget that--never, never!"

      "No, I won't forget it, my King!" She delighted in giving him his titlenow. "That satisfaction I will hold to as long as I live!"

      "But, Opal, am I never to see you?--never? Surely we may meetsometimes--rarely, of course, at long intervals, when life grows grayand gloomy, and I am starving for one ray of the sunshine of yoursmile?"

      "It would be dangerous, Paul, for both of us!"

      "But the world is only a little place after all, beloved. We shall bethrown together again by Fate--as we have been this time. "

      Then she smiled at him archly. "Ah, Paul, I know you so well! Your eyesare saying that you will often manage to see me 'by chance'--but youmust not, dear, you must not"

      "Girl, I can never forget one word you have uttered, one caress you havegiven--one tone of your voice--one smile of your lips--one glance ofyour eye--never, never in God's world!"

      "Hold me closer, Paul, and teach me to be brave!"

      They clung together in an agony too poignant for words, too mighty fortears! And of the unutterable madness and anguish of those last bitterkisses of farewell, no mortal pen can write!

      But theirs had been from the beginning a mad love--a mad, hopeless, fatal love--and it could bring neither of them happiness norpeace--nothing but the bitterness of eternal regret!

      And thus the day--their one day of life--came to an end!

      That evening, from the hotel at Lucerne, two telegrams flashed over thewires. One was addressed to the Count de Roannes, Paris, and read asfollows:
"_Shall reach Paris Monday afternoon. --Opal. _"

      The other was addressed to Sir Paul Verdayne, at Venice, and was notsigned at all, saying simply, "_A son awaits his father in Lucerne_."


      

      That night a sudden storm swept across Lucerne. 

      The thunder crashed like the boom of a thousand cannon; like menacingblades the lightning flashed its tongues of savage flame; the windsraved in relentless fury, rocking the giant trees like straws in themajesty of their wrath. Madness reigned in undisputed sovereignty, andthe earth cowered and trembled beneath the anger of the threateningheavens. 

      Opal crouched in her bed, and buried her head in the pillows. She hadnever before known the meaning of fear, but now she was alone, and theconsciousness of guilt was upon her--the acute agony of their separationmingled with the despairing prospect of a long, miserable loveless--yes, _shameful, _--life as the legal slave of a man she abhorred. 

      She did not regret the one day she had given to her lover. Whatever thecost, she would never, never regret, she said to herself, for it hadbeen well worth any price that might be required of her. She gloried init, even now, while the storm raged outside. 

      And the thunders crashed like the falling of mighty rocks upon the roofover her head. Should she summon CĂ©leste, her maid?

      Suddenly, as the tempest paused as if to catch its breath, she heardfootsteps in the corridor outside. It was very late--who could beprowling about at this hour? She listened intently, every nerve andsense keenly alert. Nearer and nearer the steps came, and then sheremembered with a start that in the excitement of her stealthy return tothe hotel and the anguish and madness of their parting, she hadforgotten to fasten her door. 


      There came a light tap on the panel. She did not speak or move--hardlybreathed. Then the door opened, noiselessly, cautiously, and he--herlover, her king--entered, the dim light of her room making his form, asit approached, appear of even more than its usual majestic height andpower. 

      "Paul!" she whispered. 

      He seemed in a strange daze. Had the storm gone to his head and drivenhim mad?

      "Yes, it is I, " he said hoarsely. "It is Paul. Don't cry out. See, I amcalm!" and he laid his hand on hers. It was burning with fever. "I willnot hurt you, Opal!"

      Cry out? Hurt her? What did he mean? She had no thought of crying out. Of course he would not hurt her--her lover, her lord, her king! Did shenot belong to him--now?

      He sat down and took her hands in his. 

      "Opal, " he muttered, "I've been thinking, thinking, thinking, till Ifeel half-mad--yes, mad! Dearest, I cannot give you up like this--Icannot! Let you go to _his_ arms--you who have been mine! Oh, Opal, I'vepictured it all to myself--seen you in his arms--seen his lips onyours--seen--seen--Can't you imagine what it means to me? It's more thanI can stand, dearest! I may be crazy--I believe I am--but wouldn't it bebetter for you and me to--to--cease forever this mockery of life, and--forget?"

      She did not understand him. 

      "Forget?" she murmured, holding his hand against her cheek, while herfree arm pulled his head down to hers. "Forget?"

      He pressed his burning lips to her cool neck, and then, after a moment, went on, "Yes, beloved, to forget. Think, Opal, think! To forget allambition, all restlessness, all disappointment, all longing for what cannever be, all pain, all suffering, all thought of responsibility orgrowth or desire, all success or failure--all life, all death--toforget! to forget! Ah, dearest, one must have loved as we have loved, and lost as we have lost, to wish to--forget!"

      "But there is no such respite for us, Paul. We are not the sort who canput memory aside. To live will be to remember!"

      "Yes, that is it. To live _is_ to remember. But why should we livelonger? We've lived a lifetime in one day, have we not, sweetheart? Whatmore has life to give us?" He was calmer now, but it was the calmness of determination. 

      "Let us die, dear--let us die! Virginius slew his daughter to save herhonor. You are more to me than a thousand daughters. You are my wife, Opal!--Opal, my very own!"

      His eyes softened again, as the storm outside lulled for a moment. 

      "My darling, don't be afraid! I will save you from him. I will keep youmine--mine!"

      The thunder crashed again, and again the fury leaped to his eyes. Hedrew from his pocket a curious foreign dagger, engraved with quaintdesigns, and glittering with encrusted gold. Opal recognized it at once. She had toyed with it the day before, admiring the richness of itsmaterial and workmanship. 

      "She--has been--mine--my wife, " he muttered to himself, wildly, disconnectedly, yet with startling distinctness. "She shall never, neverlie in his arms!" He passed his hand across his eyes, as if to brush away a veil. 

      "Oh, the red! the red! the red! It's blood and fire and hell! It glaresin my eyes! It screams in my ears! Bidding me kill! kill!"

      He clasped her to him fiercely. 

      "To see you, after all this--to see you go from me--and know you weregoing to him--_him_--while I went . . . Oh, beloved! beloved! God nevermeant that! Surely He never meant that when He created us the creaturesthat we are!"

      She kissed his hot, quivering lips. She had not loved him so much in alltheir one mad day as she loved him now. 

      "Paul, " she whispered, "beloved!--what would you do?"

      There was only a great wonder in her eyes, not the faintest sign offear. Even in his anguish the Boy noticed that. 

      "What would I do? Listen, Opal, my darling. Don't you remember, you saidit was not life but death--and I said it was both! And it is! it is! Ithought I was strong enough to brave hell! Opal--though you arebetrothed to the Count de Roannes you are _my wife_! And ourwedding-journey shall be eternal--through stars, Opal, andworlds--far-off, glimmering worlds--our freed spirits together, alwaystogether--together!"

      She watched him, fascinated, spell-bound. 

      "Dear heart, Nature will not repulse us, " Paul continued. "She willgather us to her great, warm, peaceful heart, beloved!"

      Opal held him close to her breast, almost maternally, with a greatlonging to soothe and calm his troubled spirit. 

      "Think, " he continued, "of what my poor, unhappy mother said was thecost of love--'_Sorrow and death!_' We have had the sorrow, God knows!And now for death! Kiss me, dearest, dearest! Kiss me for time and foreternity, Opal, for in life and in death we can never part more!"

      She kissed him--obediently, solemnly--and then, holding her to him, drinking in all the love that still shone for him in those eyes that haddriven him to desperation, he suddenly plunged the little dagger to itshilt through her heart.  She did not cry out. She did not even shudder. But looking at him with"the light that never was on sea or land" in her still brilliant eyes, she murmured, "In--life--and--in--death . . . Beloved! beloved!"

      And while he whispered between his set lips, "Sleep, my beloved, sleep, "her little head dropped back against his arm with a long, peaceful sigh. 

      He held her form tenderly to his heart, murmuring senseless, meaninglesswords of comfort and love, like a mother crooning her babe to sleep. Andhe still clasped her there till the new day peeped through the blinds. And the storm raged at intervals with all the ferocity of unspentpassion. But _his_ passion was over now, and he laughed a savage laughof triumph. 

      No one could take her from him now--no one! His darling was his--hiswife--in life and in death!

      He laid her down upon the bed and arranged the blankets over hertenderly, hiding the hideous, gaping wound, with its unceasing flow;carefully from sight. He closed her eyes, kissing them as he did so, andfolded her little white hands together, and then he pulled out thedisarranged lace at her throat and smoothed it mechanically, till it layquite to his satisfaction. Opal was so fastidious, he thought--soparticular about these little niceties of dress. She would like to lookwell when they found her--dear Heaven!--to-morrow!

      "No to-morrow!" he thought. They had spoken more wisely than they knew. There would be no to-morrow for her--nor for him!

      There was a tiny spot of blood upon the frill of her sleeve, and hecarefully turned it under, out of sight. He looked at the ugly stainsupon his own garments with a thrill of satisfaction. She was his! Was itnot quite right and proper that her blood should be upon him?

      But even then, frenzied as he was, he had a singular care forappearances, a curious regard for detail, and busied himself in removingall signs of his presence from her chamber--all tell-tale traces of thestorm of passion that swept away her life--and his! He felt himselfalready but the ghost of his former self, and laughed a weird, half-madlaugh at the thought as it came to him.  He bent over her again. He would have given much to have lain downbeside her and slept his last sleep in her cold, lifeless arms. But no!Even this was denied him!

      He wound a tress of her hair about his fingers, and it clung and twinedthere as her white fingers had been wont to twine. Oh, the pity of herstillness--her silence--who was never still nor silent--neverindifferent to his presence! She looked so like a sleeping child in herwhiteness and tranquillity, her red-brown hair in disordered waves abouther head, her eyes closed in the last long sleep. And he wept as hepressed his burning lips to hers, so cold, so pitifully cold, and forthe first time unresponsive. Oh, God, unresponsive forever!

      "Poor little girl!" he moaned, between sobs of hopeless pain. "Poorlittle passionate girl!. . . Poor little tired Opal!"

      And with a dry sob of unutterable anguish, he picked up the dagger--thecruel, kind little dagger--and crept to his own room. 

      The dagger was still wet with her blood. "Her blood!--Oh, God!-herblood!--hers! All mine in life, and yet never so much mine as now--minein death!--all mine! mine! And she was not afraid--not the least afraid!Her eyes had room only for her overwhelming love--love--just love, nofear, even that hour when face to face with the Great Mystery. And thiswas her blood--_hers!_"

      He believed that she had been glad to die. He believed--oh, he was sure, that death in his arms--and from his hand--had been sweeter than lifecould have been--with that wretch--and always without him--her lover!Yes, she had been glad to die. She had been grateful for her escape! Andagain the dagger drew his fascinated gaze and wrung from his lips thecry, "Her blood--hers! God in Heaven! Her blood!--hers!"

      He put his hand to his head with an inarticulate cry of bewilderment. Then, with one supreme effort, he began to stagger hastily butnoiselessly about the room. The servants of the house were alreadyastir, and the day would soon be here. He put his sacred letterscarefully away, and destroyed all worthless papers, mechanically, butstill methodically. 

      Then he hastily scribbled a few lines, and laid them beside his letters, for Verdayne would be with him now in a few hours. His father--yes, hisown father! How he would like to see him once more--just once more--withthe knowledge of their relationship as a closer bond between them--totalk about his mother--his beautiful, queenly mother--and her wonderful, wonderful love! Yet--and he sighed as he thought of his desertedkingdom--after all, all in vain--in vain! It was not to be--all thatglory--that triumph! Fate had willed differently. He was obeying theLaw!

      And his mother would not fail to understand. Verdayne must have lovedhis mother like this! O God, Love was a fearful thing, he thought, towreck a life--a terrible thing, even a hideous thing--but in spite ofeverything it was all that was worth living for--and dying for!

      The storm had spent its fury now, and only the steady drip, drip of therain reminded him of the falling of tears. 

      "Opal!" he groaned, "Opal!" And he threw himself upon the bed, claspinghis dagger in uncontrollable agony. "O life is cruel, hard, bitter! I'llnone of it!--we'll none of it, you and I!" His voice grew triumphant inits raving. "It was worth all the cost--even the sorrow and death! Butthe end has come! Opal! Opal! I am coming, sweet!--coming!" And the dagger, still red with the blood of his darling, found itsunerring way to his own heart; and Paul Zalenska forgot his dreams, hisambitions, his love, his passion, and his despair in the darkness andquiet of eternal sleep. 

      "_Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. _"

      Sir Paul Verdayne reached Lucerne on the afternoon of the next day. Hewas as eager as a boy for the reunion with his son. How he loved theBoy--his Boy--the living embodiment of a love that seemed to him greaterthan any other love the world had ever known. 

      The storm had ceased and in the brilliancy of the afternoon sunshinelittle trace of the fury of the night could be seen. Nature smiledradiantly through the tear-drops still glistening on tree and shrub andflower, like some capricious coquette defying the world to prove thatshe had ever been sad. 

      To Sir Paul, the place was hallowed with memories of his Queen, and hisheart and soul were full of her as he left the train. At the stationVasili awaited him with the news of the double tragedy that hadhorrified Lucerne. 

      In that moment, Sir Paul's heart broke. He grasped at the faithfulservitor for a support the old man was scarce able to give. He looked upinto the pitying face, grown old and worn in the service of the youngKing and his heart thrilled, as it ever thrilled, at the sight of thelong, cruel scar he remembered so well--the scar which the Kalmuck hadreceived in the service of his Queen, long years before. 

      Sir Paul loved Vasili for that--loved him even more for the service hehad done the world when he choked to death the royal murderer of hisQueen, on the fatal night of that tragedy so cruelly alive in hismemory. He looked again at the scar on the swarthy face, and yet he knewit was as nothing to the scar made in the old man's heart that day. 

      In some way--they never knew how--they managed to reach the scene of thetragedy, and Sir Paul, at his urgent request, was left alone with thebody of his son. Oh, God! Could he bear this last blow--and live?

      After a time, when reason began to re-assert itself, he searched andfound the letters that had told the Boy-king the story of his birth. Wasthere no word at all for him--his father?--save the brief telegram hehad received the night before?

      Ah, yes! here was a note. His Boy had thought of him, then, even at thelast. He read it eagerly. 

       "Father--dear Father--you who alone of all the world can understand--forgive and pity your son who has found the cross too heavy--the crown too thorny--to bear! I go to join my unhappy mother across the river that men call death--and there together we shall await the coming of the husband and father we could neither of us claim in this miserable, gray old world. Father Paul--dearest and best and truest of fathers, your Boy has learned with you the cost of love, and has gladly paid the price--'sorrow and death!'"

      He bent again over the cold form, he pushed aside the clustering curls, and kissed again and again, with all the fervor and pain of a lifetime'srepression, the white marble face of his son.  And a few words of that little note rang in his earsunceasingly--"dearest, and best, and _truest_ of fathers!" _Truest offathers_! Ah, yes! The Boy--his Boy--had understood!

      And the scalding tears came that were his one salvation, for they washedaway for a time some of the deadly ache from his bereaved heart.
      When the force of his outburst was spent, Sir Paul Verdayne masteredhimself resolutely. There was much to be done. It was indeed a doubletorture to find such an affliction here, of all places under Heaven, buthe told himself that his Queen would have him brave and strong, andmaster his grief as an English gentleman should. And her wishes werestill, as they had ever been, the guide of his every thought and action. 

      One thing he was determined upon. The world must never know the truth. 

      To be sure, Sir Paul himself did not know the secret of that one day. Hecould only surmise. Even Vasili did not know. The Boy had cleverlymanaged to have the day, as he had the preceding one, "all to himself, "as he had informed Vasili, and Opal had been equally skillful inescaping the attendance of her maid. They had left the hotel separatelyat night, in different directions, returning separately at night. Whowas there to suspect that they had passed the day together, or had evenmet each other at all? Surely--no one!

      And what was there for the world to know, in the mystery of their death?Nothing! They were each found alone, stabbed to the heart, and thedagger that had done the deed had not even been withdrawn from the bodyof the Boy, when they found him. Sir Paul and Vasili had recognized it, but who would dare to insinuate that the same dagger had drunk the bloodof the young American lady, or to say whose hand had struck either blow?It was all a mystery, and Sir Paul was determined that it should remainso. 

      Money can accomplish anything, and though all Europe rang with thestory, no scandal--nor hint of it--besmirched the fair fame of theunhappy Boy and girl who had loved "not wisely, but too well!"

      There had, indeed, been for them, as they had playfully said--"Noto-morrow!"

      And Sir Paul Verdayne, kneeling by the bier, with its trappings of akingdom's mourning, which hid beneath its rich adornment all the joythat life for twenty years had held for him, felt for the first time asense of guilt, as he looked back upon his past. 

      He did not regret his love. He could never do that! Truly, a man and awoman had a right to love and mate as they would, if the consequences oftheir deeds rested only upon their own heads. But to bring children intothe world, the fruit of such a union, to suffer and die, "for the sinsof the fathers, " as his son had suffered and died--there was the sin--aselfish, unpardonable sin! "And the wages of sin is death. "

      He had never felt the truth before. He had been so happy in his Boy, andso proud of his future, that there had never been a question in hismind. But now he was face to face with the terrible consequences. 

      "Oh, God!" he cried, "truly my punishment is just--but it is greaterthan I can bear!"


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