Read CHAPTER XVI - MUST GIVE YOU UP of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Over on the Winslow side of the way, Isabel, having tarried in the cottage to explain to her frightened mother how perfectly natural it was that Arthur, after his tramp across the meadows, should have made a circuit to the upper side of the old mill pool, went pensively home.  Presently, holding a lamp, she stood in the door between her room and Arthur’s, lifted the light above her head, and, shading her brows, called his name.  Hidden in the gloom, silent and motionless, he stared for a moment on the beautiful apparition, and then moved without a sound into the beams of the lamp, a picture of misery and desperation.

“Why in the dark?” amiably inquired the wife.

With widening eyes and spectral motions he drew near.

“In the dark?” he asked.  “Why in the dark?  The darkness is in me, and all the lamps that light the world’s ships into harbor could not dispel it.”

All at once he went to his knees.  “Oh, my wife, my wife! save me, save me!  Hell is in my soul!”

She drew back, and with low vehemence urged him to his feet.  “Up! up!  My husband shall not kneel to me!”

Laying her hand reverently upon his shoulder she pressed him into his room, set the lamp aside, and let him clasp her wildly in his arms.

“Save me, Isabel,” he moaned again.  “Save me.”

“From what, dear heart,-from what can I save you?” She drew him to a seat and knelt beside him.

“From the green-eyed demon that has gnawed, gnawed, gnawed at my heart till it is rent to shreds, and at my brain-my brain!-till it is almost gone.”  His brow drooped to hers.  “Almost gone, beloved; my brain is almost gone.”

“No, Arthur, dearest, no, no, no; your heart is torn, but your mind, thank God, is whole.  This is only a mood.  Come, it will pass with one night’s sleep.”

Still he held her brow beneath his.  “Save me, Isabel; my soul is almost gone.  Oh, save me from the fiends that come before me and behind me, by night and by day, eyes shut or eyes open.”

“My husband! my love! how can I save you?  How can I help you?  Tell me how.”

“Hear me! hear me confess!  That will save me, oh, so sweetly, so sweetly!  That will save me from the faces-the white, white faces that float on that black pool down yonder, and move their accusing lips at me:  his face-and mine-and thine.  Oh, Isabel, until you stood before me in the golden light of your lamp, transfigured into a messenger from heaven, it was in my lost soul to do the deed this night.”

The wife laid her palms upon her husband’s temples, and putting forth her strength lifted them and looked tenderly into his eyes.

“Dear heart, you do not frighten me.  You know how unaccountably fear deserts me in fearful moments.  But I know there’s nothing for either of us to fear now.  This is all in your tortured imagination, and there, though you had not seen me, it would have stayed; you never would have come to the act.  Arthur, your soul is not lost.  You who have pointed the way of escape and deliverance so clearly and savingly to so many, you need not miss it now yourself.”

“Idle words, Isabel,-idle, idle words.  The very words of Christ are idle to me until I give you up.”

“Give me up, my husband?  Dear love, you cannot!  You shall not!  I will not be given up.  You haven’t the cause, and I haven’t the cause.”

“Oh, Isabel, I stole you!  And the curse of God has gone with the theft, and with every step of the thief, from the first day till now.  From the first day until now God has lifted that other man up and brought me down.  And yet, before God who said, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, he loves you this moment-now!-with the love of a man for a woman.”

“Arthur, no!  If he did”-

“Isabel, if he did not-if he did not love you yet as before he lost you-oh! if he did not love you infinitely more now than then-he would not be Leonard Byington.  That is all my evidence, all my argument, all the ground of my hate; and I hate him with a hatred that has finished-finished!-with my heart, and is devouring my brain.”

“Oh, my poor husband, listen to”-

“Listen to me!” he broke in.  “Listen before I lose the blessed impulse to say there is but one cure.  I must give you up to Leonard Byington.  Oh, let me speak!  I took you from him by law; by law I will give you back.”

“Do you mean divorce, Arthur?”

“I do.”

“On what ground?”

“On the ground of ill treatment.  You shall bring suit; I will plead guilty.”

She rose, with his temples still in her hands.  “Ah! whose words are idle now?”

She bent over him with eyes of passionate kindness.  “You did not take me from him.  You asked me to take you, and for better for worse, till death us do part, I took you, Arthur, knowing as much of any other man’s love for me as I know at this hour.  You could not steal me; the shame would be mine, to have let you.  You are no thief!  I am no stolen thing!  You shall be happy with me; you shall not give me up!”

He leaped to his feet and snatched her into his arms.  The babe cried sleepily from its mother’s room.  She tenderly disengaged herself, left him in the door, moved on to the child’s crib, and in the dim light of the bedside taper, facing him from beyond it, soothed the little one by her silent touch.

To Arthur, wan and frail though she was, the sight was heavenly fair, a vision of ineffable peace to which it seemed a sacrilege to draw nearer; but she beckoned, and he stole to the spot.  With the quieted babe in its crib between them, the pair knit arms about each other’s neck and kissed.

“My own! my own at last!” murmured the husband.  “I never had you until now!”

“The cure has worked, dear heart,” breathed the wife,-“worked without surgery, has it not?”

“The cure has worked,” he replied,-“worked without the sacrifice.  Oh, the sudden sweet ease of it!”

Whispering a fervent good-night in response to hers, he covered her head and brows with caresses; then stole away with eyes still fastened on her, and at the dividing threshold waved a last parting and closed the door.