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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 18
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    My attack of illness, although sharp, had passed off so quickly that I
    confidently looked to complete restoration to my former vigorous state
    of health in a very short time. Nevertheless, many days went by, and I
    failed to recover strength, but remained pretty much in that condition
    of body in which I had quitted the sick-room. This surprised and
    distressed me at first, but in a little time I began to get reconciled
    to such a state, and even to discover that it had certain advantages,
    the chief of which was that the tumult of my mind was over for a season,
    so that I craved for nothing very eagerly. My friends advised me to do
    no work; but not wishing to eat the bread of idleness--although the
    bread was little now, as I had little appetite--I made it a rule to go
    every morning to the workhouse, and occupy myself for two or three hours
    with some light, mechanical task which put no strain on me, physical or
    mental. Even this playing at work fatigued me. Then, after changing my
    dress, I would repair to the music-room to resume my search after hidden
    knowledge in any books that happened to be there; for I could read now,
    a result which my sweet schoolmistress had been the first to see, and at
    once she had abandoned the lessons I had loved so much, leaving me to
    wander at will, but without a guide, in that wilderness of a strange
    literature. I had never been to the library, and did not even know in
    what part of the house it was situated; nor had I ever expressed a wish
    to see it. And that for two reasons: one was, that I had already
    half-resolved--my resolutions were usually of that complexion--never to
    run the risk of appearing desirous of knowing too much; the other and
    weightier reason was, that I had never loved libraries. They oppress me
    with a painful sense of my mental inferiority; for all those tens of
    thousands of volumes, containing so much important but unappreciated
    matter, seem to have a kind of collective existence, and to look down on
    me, like a man with great, staring, owlish eyes, as an intruder on
    sacred ground--a barbarian, whose proper place is in the woods. It is a
    mere fancy, I know, but it distresses me, and I prefer not to put myself
    in the way of it. Once in a book I met with a scornful passage about
    people with "bodily constitutions like those of horses, and small
    brains," which made me blush painfully; but in the very next passage the
    writer makes amends, saying that a man ought to think himself well off
    if, in the lottery of life, he draws the prize of a healthy stomach
    without a mind, that it is better than a fine intellect with a crazy
    stomach. I had drawn the healthy stomach--liver, lungs, and heart to
    match--and had never felt dissatisfied with my prize. Now, however, it
    seemed expedient that I should give some hours each day to reading; for
    so far my conversations and close intimacy with the people of the house
    had not dissipated the cloud of mystery in which their customs were hid;
    and by customs I here refer to those relating to courtship and matrimony
    only, for that was to me the main thing. The books I read, or dipped
    into, were all highly interesting, especially the odd volumes I looked
    at belonging to that long series on the _Houses of the World_, for
    these abounded in marvelous and entertaining matter. There were also
    histories of the house, and works on arts, agriculture, and various
    other subjects, but they were not what I wanted. After three or four
    hours spent in these fruitless researches, I would proceed to the
    Mother's Room, where I was now permitted to enter freely every
    afternoon, and when there, to remain as long as I wished. It was so
    pleasant that I soon dropped into the custom of remaining until
    supper-time compelled me to leave it, Chastel invariably treating me now
    with a loving tenderness of manner which seemed strange when I recalled
    the extremely unfavorable impression I had made at our first interview.

    It was never my nature to be indolent, or to love a quiet, dreamy
    existence: on the contrary, my fault had lain in the opposite direction,
    unlimited muscular exercise being as necessary to my well-being as fresh
    air and good food, and the rougher the exercise the better I liked it.
    But now, in this novel condition of languor, I experienced a wonderful
    restfulness both of body and mind, and in the Mother's Room, resting as
    if some weariness of labor still clung to me, breathing and steeped in
    that fragrant, summer-like atmosphere, I had long intervals of perfect
    inactivity and silence, while I sat or reclined, not thinking but in a
    reverie, while many dreams of pleasures to come drifted in a vague,
    vaporous manner through my brain. The very character of the room--its
    delicate richness, the exquisitely harmonious disposition of colors and
    objects, and the illusions of nature produced on the mind--seemed to
    lend itself to this unaccustomed mood, and to confirm me in it.

    The first impression produced was one of brightness: coming to it by way
    of the long, dim sculpture gallery was like passing out into the open
    air, and this effect was partly due to the white and crystal surfaces
    and the brilliancy of the colors where any color appeared. It was
    spacious and lofty, and the central arched or domed portion of the roof,
    which was of a light turquoise blue, rested on graceful columns of
    polished crystal. The doors were of amber-colored glass set in agate
    frames; but the windows, eight in number, formed the principal
    attraction. On the glass, hill and mountain scenery was depicted, the
    summits in some of them appearing beyond wide, barren plains, whitened
    with the noonday splendor and heat of midsummer, untempered by a cloud,
    the soaring peaks showing a pearly luster which seemed to remove them to
    an infinite distance. To look out, as it were, from the imitation shade
    of such an arbor, or pavilion, over those far-off, sun-lit expanses
    where the light appeared to dance and quiver as one gazed, was a
    never-failing delight. Such was its effect on me, combined with that of
    the mother's new tender graciousness, resulting I knew not whether from
    compassion or affection, that I could have wished to remain a permanent
    invalid in her room.

    Another cause of the mild kind of happiness I now experienced was the
    consciousness of a change in my own mental disposition, which made me
    less of an alien in the house; for I was now able, I imagined, to
    appreciate the beautiful character of my friends, their crystal purity
    of heart and the religion they professed. Far back in the old days I had
    heard, first and last, a great deal about sweetness and light and
    Philistines, and not quite knowing what this grand question was all
    about, and hearing from some of my friends that I was without the
    qualities they valued most, I thereafter proclaimed myself a Philistine,
    and was satisfied to have the controversy ended in that way, so far as
    it concerned me personally. Now, however, I was like one to whom some
    important thing has been told, who, scarcely hearing and straightway
    forgetting, goes about his affairs; but, lying awake at night in the
    silence of his chamber, recalls the unheeded words and perceives their
    full significance. My sojourn with this people--angelic women and
    mild-eyed men with downy, unrazored lips, so mild in manner yet in their
    arts "laying broad bases for eternity"--above all the invalid hours
    spent daily in the Mother's Room, had taught me how unlovely a creature
    I had been. It would have been strange indeed if, in such an atmosphere,
    I had not absorbed a little sweetness and light into my system.

    In this sweet refuge--this slumberous valley where I had been cast up by
    that swift black current that had borne me to an immeasurable distance
    on its bosom, and with such a change going on within me--I sometimes
    thought that a little more and I would touch that serene, enduring bliss
    which seemed to be the normal condition of my fellow-inmates. My passion
    for Yoletta now burned with a gentle flame, which did not consume, but
    only imparted an agreeable sense of warmth to the system. When she was
    there, sitting with me at her mother's feet, sometimes so near that her
    dark, shining hair brushed against my cheek, and her fragrant breath
    came on my face; and when she caressed my hand, and gazed full at me
    with those dear eyes that had no shadow of regret or anxiety in them,
    but only unfathomable love, I could imagine that our union was already
    complete, that she was altogether and eternally mine.

    I knew that this could not continue. Sometimes I could not prevent my
    thoughts from flying away from the present; then suddenly the complexion
    of my dream would change, darkening like a fair landscape when a cloud
    obscures the sun. Not forever would the demon of passion slumber and
    dream in my breast; with recovered strength it would wake again, and,
    ever increasing in power and ever baffled of its desire, would raise
    once more that black tempest of that past to overwhelm me. Other darker
    visions followed: I would see myself as in a magic glass, lying with
    upturned, ghastly face, with many people about me, hurrying to and fro,
    wringing their hands and weeping aloud with grief, shuddering at the
    abhorred sight of blood on their sacred, shining floors; or, worse
    still, I saw myself shivering in sordid rags and gaunt with long-lasting
    famine, a fugitive in some wintry, desolate land, far from all human
    companionship, the very image of Yoletta scorched by madness to formless
    ashes in my brain; and for all sensations, feelings, memories, thoughts,
    nothing left to me but a distorted likeness of the visible world, and a
    terrible unrest urging me, as with a whip of scorpions, ever on and on,
    to ford yet other black, icy torrents, and tear myself bleeding through
    yet other thorny thickets, and climb the ramparts of yet other gigantic,
    barren hills.

    But these moments of terrible depression, new to my life, were
    infrequent, and seldom lasted long. Chastel was my good angel; a word, a
    touch from her hand, and the ugly spirits would vanish. She appeared to
    possess a mysterious faculty--perhaps only the keen insight and sympathy
    of a highly spiritualized nature--which informed her of much that was
    passing in my heart: if a shadow came there when she had no wish or
    strength to converse, she would make me draw close to her seat, and rest
    her hand on mine, and the shadow would pass from me.

    I could not help reflecting often and wonderingly at this great change
    in her manner towards me. Her eyes dwelt lovingly on me, and her keenest
    suffering, and the unfortunate blundering expressions I frequently let
    fall, seemed equally powerless to wring one harsh or impatient word from
    her. I was not now only one among her children, privileged to come and
    sit at her feet, to have with them a share in her impartial affection;
    and remembering that I was a stranger in the house, and compared but
    poorly with the others, the undisguised preference she showed for me,
    and the wish to have me almost constantly with her, seemed a great
    mystery.

    One afternoon, as I sat alone with her, she made the remark that my
    reading lessons had ceased.

    "Oh yes, I can read perfectly well now," I answered. "May I read to you
    from this book?" Saying which, I put my hand towards a volume lying on
    the couch at her side. It differed from the other books I had seen, in
    its smaller size and blue binding.

    "No, not in this book," she said, with a shade of annoyance in her
    voice, putting out her hand to prevent my taking it.

    "Have I made another mistake?" I asked, withdrawing my hand. "I am very
    ignorant."

    "Yes, poor boy, you are very ignorant," she returned, placing her hand
    on my forehead. "You must know that this is a mother's book, and only a
    mother may read in it."

    "I am afraid," I said, with a sigh, "that it will be a long time before
    I cease to offend you with such mistakes."

    "There is no occasion to say that, for you have not offended me, only
    you make me feel sorry. Every day when you are with me I try to teach
    you something, to smooth the path for you; but you must remember, my
    son, that others cannot feel towards you as I do, and it may come to
    pass that they will sometimes be offended with you, because their love
    is less than mine."

    "But why do you care so much for me?" I asked, emboldened by her words.
    "Once I thought that you only of all in the house would never love me:
    what has changed your feelings towards me, for I know that they have
    changed?" She looked at me, smiling a little sadly, but did not reply.
    "I think I should be happier for knowing," I resumed, caressing her
    hand. "Will you not tell me?"

    There was a strange trouble on her face as her eyes glanced away and
    then returned to mine again, while her lips quivered, as if with
    unspoken words. Then she answered: "No, I cannot tell you now. It would
    make you happy, perhaps, but the proper time has not yet arrived. You
    must be patient, and learn, for you have much to learn. It is my desire
    that you should know all those things concerning the family of which you
    are ignorant, and when I say all, I mean not only those suitable to one
    in your present condition, as a son of the house, but also those higher
    matters which belong to the heads of the house--to the father and
    mother."

    Then, casting away all caution, I answered: "It is precisely a knowledge
    of those greater matters concerning the family which I have been
    hungering after ever since I came into the house."

    "I know it," she returned. "This hunger you speak of was partly the
    cause of your fever, and it is in you, keeping you feverish and feeble
    still; but for this, instead of being a prisoner here, you would now be
    abroad, feeling the sun and wind on your face."

    "And if you know that," I pleaded, "why do you not now impart the
    knowledge that can make me whole? For surely, all those lesser
    matters--those things suitable for one in my condition to know--can be
    learned afterwards, in due time. For they are not of pressing
    importance, but the other is to me a matter of life and death, if you
    only knew it."

    "I know everything," she returned quickly. But a cloud had come over her
    face at my concluding words, and a startled look into her eyes. "Life
    and death! do you know what you are saying?" she exclaimed, fixing her
    eyes on me with such intense earnestness in them that mine fell abashed
    before their gaze. Then, after a while, she drew my head down against
    her knees, and spoke with a strange tenderness. "Do you then find it so
    hard to exercise a little patience, my son, that you do not acquiesce in
    what I say to you, and fear to trust your future in my hands? My time is
    short for all that I have to do, yet I also must be patient and wait,
    although for me it is hardest. For now your coming, which I did not
    regard at first, seeing in you only a pilgrim like others--one who
    through accidents of travel had been cast away and left homeless in the
    world, until we found and gave you shelter--now, it has brought
    something new into my life: and if this fresh hope, which is only an
    old, perished hope born again, ever finds fulfillment, then death will
    lose much of its bitterness. But there are difficulties in the way which
    only time, and the energy of a soul that centers all its faculties in
    one desire, one enterprise, can overcome. And the chief difficulty I
    find is in yourself--in that strange, untoward disposition so often
    revealed in your conversation, which you have shown even now; for to be
    thus questioned and pressed, and to have my judgment doubted, would have
    greatly offended me in another. Remember this, and do not abuse the
    privilege you enjoy: remember that you must greatly change before I can
    share with you the secrets of my heart that concern you. And bear in
    mind, my son, that I am not rebuking you for a want of knowledge; for I
    know that for many deficiencies you are not blameworthy. I know, for
    instance, that nature has denied to you that melodious and flexible
    voice in which it is our custom every day to render homage to the
    Father, to express all the sacred feelings of our hearts, all our love
    for each other, the joy we have in life, and even our griefs and
    sorrows. For grief is like a dark, oppressive cloud, until from lip and
    hand it breaks in the rain of melody, and we are lightened, so that even
    the things that are painful give to life a new and chastened glory. And
    as with music, so with all other arts. There is a twofold pleasure in
    contemplating our Father's works: in the first and lower kind you share
    with us; but the second and more noble, springing from the first, is
    ours through that faculty by means of which the beauty and harmony of
    the visible world become transmuted in the soul, which is like a pencil
    of glass receiving the white sunbeam into itself, and changing it to
    red, green, and violet-colored light: thus nature transmutes itself in
    our minds, and is expressed in art. But in you this second faculty is
    wanting, else you would not willingly forego so great a pleasure as its
    exercise affords, and love nature like one that loves his fellow-man,
    but has no words to express so sweet a feeling. For the happiness of
    love with sympathy, when made known and returned, is increased an
    hundredfold; and in all artistic work we commune not with blind,
    irrational nature, but with the unseen spirit which is in nature,
    inspiring our hearts, returning love for love, and rewarding our labor
    with enduring bliss. Therefore it is your misfortune, not your fault,
    that you are deprived of this supreme solace and happiness."

    To this speech, which had a depressing effect on me, I answered sadly:
    "Every day I feel my deficiencies more keenly, and wish more ardently to
    lessen the great distance between us; but now--sweet mother, forgive me
    for saying it!--your words almost make me despond."

    "And yet, my son, I have spoken only to encourage you. I know your
    limitations, and expect nothing beyond your powers; nor do your errors
    greatly trouble me, believing as I do that in time you will be able to
    dismiss them from your mind. But the temper of your mind must be changed
    to be worthy of the happiness I have designed for you. Patience must
    chasten that reckless spirit in you; for feverish diligence, alternating
    with indifference or despondence, there must be unremitting effort; and
    for that unsteady flame of hope, which burns so brightly in the morning
    and in the evening sings so low, there must be a bright, unwavering, and
    rational hope. It would be strange indeed if after this you were cast
    down; and, lest you forget anything, I will say again that only by
    giving you enduring happiness and the desire of your heart can my one
    hope be fulfilled. Consider how much I say to you in these words; it
    saddens me to think that so much was necessary. And do not think hardly
    of me, my son, for wishing to keep you a little longer in this prison
    with me: for in a little while your weakness will pass away like a
    morning cloud. But for me there shall come no change, since I must
    remain day and night here with the shadow of death; and when I am taken
    forth, and the sunshine falls once more on my face, I shall not feel it,
    and shall not see it, and I shall lie forgotten when you are in the
    midst of your happy years."

    Her words smote on my heart with a keen pain of compassion. "Do not say
    that you will be forgotten!" I exclaimed passionately; "for should you
    be taken away, I shall still love and worship your memory, as I worship
    you now when you are alive."

    She caressed my hand, but did not speak; and when I looked up, her worn
    face had dropped on the pillow, and her eyes were closed. "I am
    tired--tired," she murmured. "Stay with me a little longer, but leave me
    if I sleep."

    And in a little while she slept. The light was on her face, resting on
    the purple pillow, and with the soulful eyes closed, and the lips that
    had no red color of life in them also closed and motionless, it was like
    a face carved in ivory of one who had suffered like Isarte in the house
    and perished long generations ago; and the abundant dark, lusterless
    hair that framed it, looked dead too, and of the color of wrought iron.
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    Chapter 18
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