A Circle in the Sand by Kate Jordan
Author of "The Kiss of Gold," "The Other House," etc. etc. Copyright 1898. By the Author
"You couldn't help it," he said. "You don't love me. How are you to blame for that?"
Her mind grasped at the words eagerly. It was true. She could not help it. She was not to blame.
"Good night, Anne. I hope your holiday will do you good, and I know it will." David said, quite in bis usual tone. "Don't fail to let me know when you return."
She let him go with another handshake, and went back to the fire. For a long time she crouched over the coals, her face sheltered by her hands. Nora's entreaties about preparations for bed were unheeded.
"I want to be alone," she said, pushing the girl away. "Come back by and by."
She sat in the empty room, watching the fire sink lower. She was groping in the dark for an understanding of her own heart and the reasons which had made her refuse to be David Temple's wife. She had loved him the night he had sat in this same room and told her of Olga. She bad continued to love him miserably, with passion, and had struggled to forget him through conflicts of regret. In the days when peace had come to her he had still seemed the most important and dearest in the world. She had many times thought of him so during the year spent in the same house with him.
Why, then, when he had spoken the words she had believed would hold the richest harmony in her life, had they meant none of these dear things? Why had they not been acceptable?
She had outlived her love for David Temple without having become aware of the change in herself. She had not even pitied him acutely, as women do pity what they must hurt.
Was he hurt very much? He had been very sure of her. With fine, convincing intuition she bad felt the confidence underlying his caressing words, had divined it in his calm eyes. He missed her, that was true enough; needed her for the simplest and most sensible reasons. He was fond of her. She had his admiration, confidence, respect. From habit she had become necessary to him. His silent house required a mistress, his life a companion. But the love which comes to curse or bless a life and which is all of life was not there. Even the exaltation of the senses, misquoted love, which he had felt for Olga, was absent. There was no illusion, no pain, no romance in David's affection for her. It was quiet, well balanced, wholesome. She knew she was the passionless choice of his calm, wise moments.
Nora came in, a muddy letter in her hand.
"The fool of a postman, to save cooling his feet, put this under the mat instead of ringing the bell. It's a sorry looking letter it is now," and Nora dried it on her apron before putting it in Anne's outstretched hand.
It was from Donald. Her eyes brightened as she took it quickly and drew the rustling pages from the envelope. She read:
Dearest Anne- It's very quiet where I sit tonight writing to you. The short twilight has disappeared into a dark blue night, the southern cross is in the sky, and the few other stars are bigger and brighter than the many at home. How far away you are from me! Somehow I never felt so alone in the wilderness as I do tonight. A longing to see you eats at my heart. There is no voice in the world as sweet as yours. I love your eyes, the way your lips look when you laugh. Oh, Anne, Anne, if I could see you now!
These fancies are wild, you will think maybe. Oh, but I do love you so! A nigger somewhere in the darkness outside is playing a passionate tune on a tin flute, and the savage notes go through me, racking me with a miserable sort of happiness, they are so like the ache I feel to see you, to touch you!
I've worked very faithfully. The men I'm thrown with, Armitage and Morgan, are bully good fellows and, like me, are hoping and toiling for prosperity under another sky as the reward. I like them both immensely, and I think they like me pretty well.
I wish you could see your two books. You'd hardly know them, they are so thumbed. I almost know them by heart. There's a bright future for you, Anne, dear. Oh, I hope you'll have all your dreams realized, every one! But there's bitterness in the thought for me. I see more and more how much I aspire to in loving you, how mad the dream that maybe- But I can't go on. Nothing can alter the fact that I do love you, and, though you go quite out of my life and marry and are happy without one thought of me, I must still love you. Nothing can alter that.
Oh, I wonder will you ever love me.? Will I ever be able to go to you and ask you that? Will I dare? What you've been to me! Only today as I stood watching the negroes among the coffee shrubs I thought of the night in the mines when we sat with our hands clasped in the blackness and I talked to you of my wretched self as l'd never spoken to any living being and the night when Joe died and I tried to tell you all that was in my heart. Do you remember it as I do? I kissed your hair that night. You didn't know it. Afterward, when you laid your check against my arm, your beautiful face so white, and whispered, "I'll remember, Donald," I thought my heart would burst with pain and joy. Oh, how I wish I could have my life to live over again and be at this moment the man God had meant me to be, not full of bitter memories, still half afraid after fighting the habits of years! If away back in the past when I was a little chap I could have known that one day I'd meet you, love you, need you so, how little all that was miserable would have seemed- only a time of darkness to be lived through somehow with happiness awaiting me at the end!
These are thoughts which haunt me all the time, though I've little enough time to think. There's so much to do I've grown very practical. But it's so quiet here tonight, and you are so very far away, and I do crave with physical pain for one sight of you, and the nigger's melody has fired my blood, and a queer bird outside my window utters now and then a soft good night note as sad as death.
Oh, to have you beside me in this little room just for a moment, to bless it for all the days to come with the magic of your smile! I love your dearly, Anne; need you more.
I suppose you are very much at home again in your old rooms. I can fancy the year you spent in Waverly place was deadly dull, although you wouldn't say so. You say David has bought the old mansion from the doctor and regularly settled down there. I wonder why he does this unless he intends to remain a hermit or marry again.
Do you know I feel sorry for David? Yet I don't think it would please him to think any one felt pity for him. I used to think in the dark days before you came to me it would be the sweetest moment in my life to see him in s-me position where I could pity him. He used to antagonize and attract me in the one hour. But that's past and done with. There's not a tinge of envy in my feeling for him now. Since his wife's death he's written to me very seldom. Do you think he loved her very much? Does he make you his confidant now as he used to do? You and he were great chums once. I hated him then. And once- shall I tell you?- I thought that maybe he might love you and win you. If he had, I think I'd have gone mad with grief. David's had everything all his life and had it before my longing eyes. But if you'd loved him, Anne, I would have suffered pangs too intolerable to think of without agony. I can lose you to another man and bear my disappointment as well as I can. But to David Temple- I can't bear to think of it. It would seem too wretchedly consistent with all that's gone before. But you're not going to marry him, so I'll stop tormenting myself this way.
How long will it be before I see you? Oh, I do want to see you! I have succeeded moderately, have paid David his loan and made some money besides. One year more of this and I'll be able to go home. Home! One year! And then? Well, you know all I dream of. You are everything to me. You seem near to me some days. I wonder if your thoughts stray to me now and then and I feel them. Oh, do think of me and as tenderly as you can! Do you understand how I love you? Do you know what you are to me? I cannot write more. Good night.-- Donald.
The letter slipped from Anne's fingers and lay a small, white patch against the whiter hem of her gown. She thrust her hands out invitingly. Her eyes had the look of a child's in the dark waiting for the coming of the light. The breath came and went unevenly through her parted lips. A happy smile broke over her face.
She picked the letter up and pressed it to her lips several times before she spoke to it, as if to one who listened: "I know - I know all now! My dear, dear, dear!"
A man on horseback appeared at the head of the road leading from one of the cup shaped hills to the fazenda Ricardo in S. Paula do Muriahe, in the province of Rio Janeiro. He wore a short, white coat and nankeen trousers. A blue scarf, loosely knotted, showed a few inches of darkly tanned throat. A wide leafed straw hat, evidently of Brazilian manufacture, was pulled over bis eyes. Even in shadow the eyes were unmistakably Donald Sefain's.
He pulled in his horse and remained lost in a study of the scene, while the sunlight of a Brazilian January bathed him in an intense flood.
On every hand as far as the eye could see the land was prostrate under the stare of a pitiless sky. There was no shadow near him save that of his horse and his own broad hatted figure. Half way down the hill one bushy headed palm and the prongs of some cacti lay patterned sharply on the bare and dazzling earth. Below, in the middle distance, he saw the fazenda, the ugly factory, the unsheltered square and cluster of outbuildings. Behind him lay the waving line of hills on which the coffee shrubs flourished and from which the soft, monotonous chant and quavering of the negroes came to him.
This scene made his life - the coffee bearing hills, the unsheltered road lying between them. Ugly, arid, lonely, were the words that rose in his mind as he paused there. The very truth and force of the artist in him made his heart rise in hot revolt. Hatred and longing were in his steady gaze.
In a few moments another rider came out of the plantation and drew up beside him. He was a big, fair haired man, his light blue eyes a strange anomaly in his senna brown face. When he spoke, his broad, musical accent conjured a vision of English fields on a spring morning instead of the hot, slothful land blazing around him.
"Waiting for me, Sefain?"
"No, I was thinking. I knew you'd follow."
The Englishman looked at him, hesitated and at length spoke:
"Sefain, you're making a hard fight here, aren't you?" He asked the question abruptly as they moved on at a crawling pace.
"Why?" and Donald's uncommunicative soul, aroused to interest, looked for a moment speculatively from his brilliant eye.
"Oh, I can see it. You hold your tongue better than any man I've ever met, and I've knocked about a bit in this contrary world. But I know you are simply sickening for a sight of home - and some woman."
The words sent a dark flush up Donald'e cheek and his silence was cold.
"Fact. But don't suppose l'm trying to force your confidence, my boy." He laid his hand on Donald's wrist. "I speak this way, because - well, because I'm deuced sorry for you" -
"You're wasting your pity then. What the devil do you mean? One would think I'd been playing the part of a sentimental fool."
"Hold on, mi amigo. Let not 'the Inglez' quarrel and set a bad example to these brown beggars here," and an imperturbable smile distended Armitage's full cheeks. "I haven't finished. I'm sorry, and I'm envious at the same time. God! To be not yet 30 and in love. To know the world - only in one pair of eyes and comprehend heaven in the touch of five slim fingers. What would not I give to feel this, tell myself fondly I was a fool and be glad I was! Hug your misery, my boy. Be such a fool. Some day, maybe, when you're like me and not a living thing is really necessary to you, when you know only the sleek and deadly love of practical self content, you'll remember and wish the longings which tear you now could come again and hurt you. That man only is blest whose happiness depends upon another human being."
Donald looked at him in amazement. He had never heard words like these from Armitage. They touched him too. Over his lean, brown face a dreaminess stole, and just as they crossed the fan-like shadow of the solitary palm upon the roadway he moved his companion's hand from his wrist and gripped it. (To be continued)