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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGreatheart - Part 2 - Chapter 24. The Mountain Side
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Greatheart - Part 2 - Chapter 24. The Mountain Side Post by :Einstein Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2830

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Greatheart - Part 2 - Chapter 24. The Mountain Side

PART II CHAPTER XXIV. THE MOUNTAIN SIDE

When Isabel opened her eyes after a slumber that had lasted for the greater part of the day, it was to find Scott seated beside her quietly watching her.

She reached a feeble hand to him with a smile of welcome. "Dear Stumpy, when did you come?"

"An hour or two ago," he said, and put the weak hand to his lips. "You have had a good sleep, dear?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes. It has done me good." She lay looking at him with a smile still in her eyes. "I hope little Dinah is resting," she said. "She was with me nearly all night. I didn't wish it, Stumpy, but the dear child wouldn't leave till I was more comfortable."

"She is resting for a little now," he said. "I am so sorry you had a bad time last night."

"Oh, don't be sorry for me!" she said softly. "My bad times are so nearly over now. It is a waste of time to talk about them. She sent for you, did she?"

He bent his head. "She knew I would wish to be sent for. She fancied you might be wanting me."

"I do want you," she said, and into her wasted face there came a look of unutterable tenderness. "Oh, Stumpy darling, need you leave me again?"

He was still holding her hand; his fingers closed upon it at her words.

"I think the last part may be--a little steep," she said wistfully. "I would like to feel that you are near at hand. You have helped me so often--so often. And then too--there is--my little Dinah. I want you to help her too."

"God knows I will do my best, dear," he said.

Her fingers returned his pressure. "She has been so much to me--so much to me," she whispered. "When I came here, I had no hope. But the care of her, the comforting of her, opened the dungeon-door for me. And now no Giant Despair will ever hold me captive again. But I am anxious about her, Stumpy. There is some trouble in the background of which she has never spoken--of which she can never bear to speak. Have you any idea what it is?"

He moved with an unwonted touch of restlessness. "I think she worries about the future," he said.

"That isn't all," Isabel said with conviction. "There is more than that. It hangs over her like a cloud. It weighs her down."

"She hasn't confided in me," he said.

"Ah! But perhaps she will," Isabel's eyes still dwelt upon him with a great tenderness. "Stumpy," she murmured under her breath, "forgive me for asking! I must ask! Stumpy, why don't you win her for yourself, dear? The way is open. I know--I know you can."

He moved again, moved with a gesture of protest. "You are mistaken, Isabel," he said. "The way is not open." He spoke wearily. He was looking straight before him. "If I were to attempt what you suggest," he said slowly, "I should deprive her of the only friend to whom she can turn with any confidence besides yourself. She trusts me now implicitly. She believes my friendship for her to be absolutely simple and disinterested. And I would rather die than fail her."

"Then you think she doesn't care?" Isabel said.

Scott turned his eyes upon her. "Personally, I came to that conclusion long ago," he said. "No woman could ever hang a serious romance around me, Isabel. I am not the right sort. If Dinah imagined for a moment that I were capable of making love in the ordinary way, our friendship would go to the bottom forthwith. No, my dear; put the thought out of your mind! The Stumpys of this world must be resigned to go unpaired. They must content themselves with the outer husk. It's that or nothing."

Isabel's smile was full of tenderness. "You talk as one who knows," she said. "But I wonder if you do."

"Oh yes," Scott said. "I've learned my lesson. I've been given an ordinary soul in an extraordinary body, and I've got to make the best of it. You can't ignore the body, you know, Isabel. It plays a mighty big part in this mortal life. The idea of any woman falling in love with me in my present human tenement is ridiculous, and I have put it out of my mind for good."

Isabel's eyes were shining. She clasped his hand closer. "I think you are quite wrong, Stumpy dear," she said. "If your soul matched your body, then there might be something in your argument. But it doesn't. And--if you don't mind my saying so--your soul is far the most extraordinary part of your personality. Little Dinah found out long ago that you were--greathearted."

Scott smiled a little. "Oh yes, I know she views me through a magnifying-glass and reveres me accordingly. Hence our friendship. But, my dear, that isn't being in love. I believe that somewhere there is a shadowy person whom she cherishes in the very inner secrecy of her heart. Who he is or what he is, I don't know. He is probably something very different from the dream-being she worships. We all are. But I feel that he is there. Probably I have never met the actual man. I have only seen his shadow and that by inadvertence. I once penetrated the secret chamber for one moment only, and then I was driven forth and the door securely locked. I am not good at trespassing, you know, for all my greatness. I have never been near the secret chamber since."

"Do you mean that she admitted to you that--she cared for someone?" Isabel asked.

Scott's pale eyes had a quizzical look. "I had the consideration to back out before she had time to do anything so unmaidenly," he said. "Possibly the shadowman may never materialize. In fact it seems more than possible. In which case the least said is soonest mended."

"That may be what is troubling her," Isabel said thoughtfully.

She lay still for a while, and Scott leaned back in his chair and watched the little pleasure-boats that skimmed the waters of the bay. The merry cries of bathers came up to the quiet room. The world was full to the brim of gaiety and sunshine on that hot June day.

"Stumpy," gently his sister's voice recalled him, "do you never mean to marry, dear? I wish you would. You will be so lonely."

He lifted his shoulders. "What can I say Isabel? If the right woman comes along and proposes, I will marry her with pleasure. I would never dare to propose on my own,--being what I am."

"Being a very perfect knight whom any woman might be proud to marry," Isabel said. "That is only a pose of yours, Stumpy, and it doesn't become you. I wonder--how I wonder!--if you are right about Dinah."

"Yes, I am right," he said with conviction. "But Isabel, you will remember--it was spoken in confidence."

She gave a sharp sigh. "I shall remember dear," she said.

Again a brief silence fell between them; but Scott's eye no longer sought the sparkling water. They dwelt upon his sister's face. Pale as alabaster, clear-cut as though carven with a chisel, it rested upon the white pillow, and the stamp of a great peace lay upon the calm forehead and in the quiet of the deeply-sunken eyes. There were lines of suffering that yet lingered about the mouth, lines of weariness and of sorrow, but the old piteous look of craving had faded quite away. The bitter despair that had so haunted Dinah had passed into the stillness of a great patience. There was about her at that time the sacred hush that falls before the dawn.

After a little she became aware of his quiet regard, and turned her head with a smile. "Well, Stumpy? What is it?"

"I was just wondering what had happened to you," he made answer.

Her smile deepened. "I will tell you, dear," she said. "I have come within sight of the mountain-top at last."

"And you are satisfied?" he said, in a low voice.

Her eyes shone with a soft brightness that seemed to illumine her whole face. "Satisfied that my beloved is waiting for me and that I shall meet him in the dawning?" she said. "Oh yes, I have known that in my heart for a long time. It troubled me terribly when I lost his letters. They had been such a link, and for a while I was in outer darkness. And then--by degrees, after little Dinah came back to me--I began to find that after all there were other links. Helping her in her trouble helped me to bear my own. And I came to see that ministering to a need outside one's own is the surest means of finding comfort in sorrow for oneself. I have been very selfish Stumpy. I have been gradually waking to that fact for a long while. I used to immerse myself in those letters to try and get the feeling of his dear presence. Very, very often I didn't succeed. And I know now that it was because I was forcing myself to look back and not forward. I think material things are apt to make one do that. But when material things are taken quite away, then one is forced upon the spiritual. And that is what has happened to me. No one can take anything from me now because what I possess is laid up in store for me. I am moving forward towards it every day."

She ceased to speak, and again for the space of seconds the silence fell.

Scott broke it, speaking slowly, as if not wholly certain of the wisdom of speech. "I did not know," he said, "that you had lost those letters."

Her face contracted momentarily with the memory of a past pain. "Eustace destroyed them," she stated simply.

His brows drew sharply together. "Isabel! Do you mean that?"

She pressed his hand. "Yes, dear. I knew you would feel it badly so I didn't tell you before. He acted for the best. I see that quite clearly now. And--in a sense--the best has come of it."

Scott got to his feet with the gesture of a man who can barely restrain himself. "He did--that?" he said.

She reached up a soothing hand. "My dear, it doesn't matter now. Don't be angry with him. I know that he meant well."

Scott's eyes looked down into hers, intensely bright, burningly alive. "No wonder," he said, breathing deeply, "that you never want to see him again!"

"No, Stumpy; that is not so." Gently she made answer; her hand held his almost pleadingly. "For a long time I felt like that, it is true. But now it is all over. There is no bitterness left in my heart at all. We have grown away from each other, he and I. But we were very close friends once, and because of that I would give much--oh, very much--to be friends with him again. It was in a very great measure my selfishness that came between us, my pride too. I had influence with him, Stumpy, and I didn't try to use it. I simply threw him off because he disapproved of my husband. I might have won him, I feel that I could have won him if I had tried. But I wouldn't. And afterwards, when my mind was clouded, my influence was all gone. I wish I could get it back again. I feel as if I might. But he is keeping away now because of Dinah. And I am afraid too that he feels I do not want him--" her eyes were suddenly dim with tears. "That is not so, Stumpy. I do want him. Sometimes--in the night--I long for him. But, for little Dinah's sake--"

She paused, for Scott had suddenly turned and was pacing the room rapidly, unevenly, as if inaction had become unendurable.

She lay and watched him while the great tears gathered and ran down her wasted face.

He came back to her at length and saw them. He stood a moment looking downwards, then knelt beside her and very tenderly wiped them away.

"My dear," he said softly, "you mustn't ever cry again. It breaks my heart to see you. If you want Eustace, he shall come to you. Dinah was speaking to me about it only a short time ago. She will not stand in the way of his coming. In fact, I gathered that if you wish it, she wishes it also."

"That is so like little Dinah," whispered Isabel. "But, Stumpy, do you think we ought to let her face that?"

"I shall be here," he said.

"Oh, yes, dear. You will be here." She regarded him wistfully. "Stumpy, don't'--don't let yourself get bitter against Eustace!" she pleaded. "You have always been so splendid, so forbearing, till now."

Scott's lips were stern. "Some things are hard to forgive, Isabel," he said.

"But if I forgive--" she said.

His face changed; he bowed his head suddenly down upon her pillow. "Nothing will give you back to me--when you are gone," he whispered.

Her hand was on his head in a moment. "Oh, my dear, are you grieving because of that? And I have been such a burden to you!"

"A burden beloved," he said, speaking with difficulty. "And you were getting better. You were better. He--threw you back again. He brought you--to this."

Her fingers pressed his forehead. "Not entirely, Stumpy. Be generous, dear! It may have hastened matters a little--only a very little. And even so, what of it, if the journey has been shortened? Perhaps the way has been a little steeper, but it has brought me more quickly to my goal. Stumpy, Stumpy, if it weren't for leaving you, I would go as gladly--as gladly--as a happy bride--to her wedding."

She broke off, breathing fast.

He lifted his head swiftly, and saw the shadow of mortal pain gathering in her eyes. He commanded himself on the instant and rose. Self-contained and steady, he found and administered the remedy that was always kept at hand.

Then, as the spasm passed, he stooped and quietly kissed the white forehead. "Don't trouble about me, dear!" he said. "God knows I would not keep you from your rest."

And with that calmly he turned and left her.

But Biddy, whom he sought a few moments later to send her to her mistress, saw in him notwithstanding his composure, an intensity of suffering that struck dismay to her honest heart. "The Lord preserve us!" she said. "But Master Scott has the look of a man with a sword in his soul!" She wiped her own tears away with a trembling hand. "And what'll he do at all when Miss Isabel's gone," she said, "unless Miss Dinah does the comforting of him?"

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