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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 17
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    The violent fever into which I had fallen did not abate until the third
    day, when I fell into a profound slumber, from which I woke refreshed
    and saved. I did not, on awakening, find myself in my own familiar cell,
    but in a spacious apartment new to me, on a comfortable bed, beside
    which Edra was seated. Almost my first feeling was one of disappointment
    at not seeing Yoletta there, and presently I began to fear that in the
    ravings of delirium I had spoken things which had plucked the scales
    from the eyes of my kind friends in a very rough way indeed, and that
    the being I loved best had been permanently withdrawn from my sight. It
    was a blessed relief when Edra, in answer to the questions I put with
    some heart-quakings to her, informed me that I had talked a great deal
    in my fever, but unintelligibly, continually asking questions about
    Venus, Diana, Juno, and many other persons whose names had never before
    been heard in the house. How fortunate that my crazy brain had thus
    continued vexing itself with this idle question! She also told me that
    Yoletta had watched day and night at my side, that at last, when the
    fever left me, and I had fallen into that cooling slumber, she too, with
    her hand on mine, had dropped her head on the pillow and fallen asleep.
    Then, without waking her, they had carried her away to her own room, and
    Edra had taken her place by my side.

    "Have you nothing more to ask?" she said at length, with an accent of
    surprise.

    "No; nothing more. What you have told me has made me very happy--what
    more can I wish to know?"

    "But there is more to tell you, Smith. We know now that your illness is
    the result of your own imprudence; and as soon as you are well enough to
    leave your room and bear it, you must suffer the punishment."

    "What! Punished for being ill!" I exclaimed, sitting bolt upright in my
    bed. "What do you mean, Edra? I never heard such outrageous nonsense in
    my life!"

    She was disturbed at this outburst, but quietly and gravely repeated
    that I must certainly be punished for my illness.

    Remembering what their punishments were, I had the prospect of a second
    long separation from Yoletta, and the thought of such excessive
    severity, or rather of such cruel injustice, made me wild. "By Heaven, I
    shall not submit to it!" I exclaimed. "Punished for being ill--who ever
    heard of such a thing! I suppose that by-and-by it will be discovered
    that the bridge of my nose is not quite straight, or that I can't see
    round the corner, and that also will be set down as a crime, to be
    expiated in solitary confinement, on a bread-and-water diet! No, you
    shall not punish me; rather than give in to such tyranny I'll walk off
    and leave the house for ever!"

    She regarded me with an expression almost approaching to horror on her
    gentle face, and for some moments made no reply. Then I remembered that
    if I carried out that insane threat I should indeed lose Yoletta, and
    the very thought of such a loss was more than I could endure; and for a
    moment I almost hated the love which made me so helpless and
    miserable--so powerless to oppose their stupid and barbarous practices.
    It would have been sweet then to have felt free--free to fling them a
    curse, and go away, shaking the dust of their house from my shoes,
    supposing that any dust had adhered to them.

    Then Edra began to speak again, and gravely and sorrowfully, but without
    a touch of austerity in her tone or manner, censured me for making use
    of such irrational language, and for allowing bitter, resentful thoughts
    to enter my heart. But the despondence and sullen rage into which I had
    been thrown made me proof even against the medicine of an admonition
    imparted so gently, and, turning my face away, I stubbornly refused to
    make any reply. For a while she was silent, but I misjudged her when I
    imagined that she would now leave me, offended, to my own reflections.

    "Do you not know that you are giving me pain?" she said at last, drawing
    a little closer to me. "A little while ago you told me that you loved
    me: has that feeling faded so soon, or do you take any pleasure in
    wounding those you love?"

    Her words, and, more than her words, her tender, pleading tone, pierced
    me with compunction, and I could not resist. "Edra, my sweet sister, do
    not imagine such a thing!" I said. "I would rather endure many
    punishments than give you pain. My love for you cannot fade while I have
    life and understanding. It is in me like greenness in the leaf--that
    beautiful color which can only be changed by sere decay."

    She smiled forgiveness, and with a humid brightness in her eyes, which
    somehow made me think of that joy of the angels over one sinner that
    repenteth, bent down and touched her lips to mine. "How can you love any
    one more than that, Smith?" she said. "Yet you say that your love for
    Yoletta exceeds all others."

    "Yes, dear, exceeds all others, as the light of the sun exceeds that of
    the moon and the stars. Can you not understand that--has no man ever
    loved you with a love like that, my sister?"

    She shook her head and sighed. Did she not understand my meaning
    now--had not my words brought back some sweet and sorrowful memory? With
    her hands folded idly on her lap, and her face half averted, she sat
    gazing at nothing. It seemed impossible that this woman, so tender and
    so beautiful, should never have experienced in herself or witnessed in
    another, the feeling I had questioned her about. But she made no further
    reply to my words; and as I lay there watching her, the drowsy spirit
    the fever had left in me overcame my brain, and I slept once more.

    For several days, which brought me so little strength that I was not
    permitted to leave the sick-room, I heard nothing further about my
    punishment, for I purposely refrained from asking any questions, and no
    person appeared inclined to bring forward so disagreeable a subject. At
    length I was pronounced well enough to go about the house, although
    still very feeble, and I was conducted, not to the judgment-room, where
    I had expected to be taken, but to the Mother's Room; and there I found
    the father of the house, seated with Chastel, and with them seven or
    eight of the others. They all welcomed me, and seemed glad to see me out
    again; but I could not help remarking a certain subdued, almost solemn
    air about them, which seemed to remind me that I was regarded as an
    offender already found guilty, who had now been brought up to receive
    judgment.

    "My son," said the father, addressing me in a calm, judicial tone which
    at once put my last remaining hopes to flight, "it is a consolation to
    us to know that your offense is of such a nature that it cannot diminish
    our esteem for you, or loosen the bonds of affection which unite you to
    us. You are still feeble, and perhaps a little confused in mind
    concerning the events of the last few days: I do not therefore press you
    to give an account of them, but shall simply state your offense, and if
    I am mistaken in any particular you shall correct me. The great love you
    have for Yoletta," he continued--and at this I started and blushed
    painfully, but the succeeding words served to show that I had only too
    little cause for alarm--"the great love you have for Yoletta caused you
    much suffering during her thirty days' seclusion from us, so that you
    lost all enjoyment of life, and eating little, and being in continual
    dejection, your strength was much diminished. On the last day you were
    so much excited at the prospect of reunion with her, that you went to
    your task in the woods almost fasting, and probably after spending a
    restless night. Tell me if this is not so?"

    "I did not sleep that night," I replied, somewhat huskily.

    "Unrefreshed by sleep and with lessened strength," he continued, "you
    went to the woods, and in order to allay that excitement in your mind,
    you labored with such energy that by noon you had accomplished a task
    which, in another and calmer condition of mind and body, would have
    occupied you more than one day. In thus acting you had already been
    guilty of a serious offense against yourself; but even then you might
    have escaped the consequences if, after finishing your work, you had
    rested and refreshed yourself with food and drink. This, however, you
    neglected to do; for when you had fallen insensible to the earth, and
    Yoletta had called the dog and sent it to the house to summon
    assistance, the food you had taken with you was found untasted in the
    basket. Your life was thus placed in great peril; and although it is
    good to lay life down when it has become a burden to ourselves and
    others, being darkened by that failure of power from which there is no
    recovery, wantonly or carelessly to endanger it in the flower of its
    strength and beauty is a great folly and a great offense. Consider how
    deep our grief would have been, especially the grief of Yoletta, if this
    culpable disregard of your own safety and well-being had ended fatally,
    as it came so near ending! It is therefore just and righteous that an
    offense of such a nature should be recompensed; but it is a light
    offense, not like one committed against the house, or even against
    another person, and we also remember the occasion of it, since it was no
    unworthy motive, but exceeding love, which clouded your judgment, and
    therefore, taking all these things into account, it was my intention to
    put you away from us for the space of thirteen days."

    Here he paused, as if expecting me to make some reply. He had reproved
    me so gently, even approving of the emotion, although still entirely in
    the dark as to its meaning, which had caused my illness, that I was made
    to feel very submissive, and even grateful to him.

    "It is only just," I replied, "that I should suffer for my fault, and
    you have tempered justice with more mercy than I deserve."

    "You speak with the wisdom of a chastened spirit, my son," he said,
    rising and placing his hand on my head; "and your words gladden me all
    the more for knowing that you were filled with surprise and resentment
    when told that your offense was one deserving punishment. And now, my
    son, I have to tell you that you will not be separated from us, for the
    mother of the house has willed that your offense shall be pardoned."

    I looked in surprise at Chastel, for this was very unexpected: she was
    gazing at my face with the light of a strange tenderness in her eyes,
    never seen there before. She extended her hand, and, kneeling before
    her, I took it in mine and raised it to my lips, and tried, with poor
    success, to speak my thanks for this rare and beautiful act of mercy.
    Then the others surrounded me to express their congratulations, the men
    pressing my hands, but not so the women, for they all freely kissed me;
    but when Yoletta, coming last, put her white arms about my neck and
    pressed her lips to mine, the ecstasy I felt was so greatly overbalanced
    by the pain of my position, and the thought, now almost a conviction,
    that I was powerless to enlighten them with regard to the nature of the
    love I felt for her, that I almost shrank from her dear embrace.
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    Chapter 17
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