Read CHAPTER XVII - SLEEP, OF A SORT of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Isabel went to her couch in great heaviness and agitation.  Her sad confidings to her mother, Minnie’s adventure, Arthur’s pitiful if not alarming condition, she strove to reconsider duly and in their order; but perpetually there interfered, with its every smallest detail thrillingly clear and strong, that moment which had thrown her once more into the company, tossed her into the very clutch, of Leonard Byington.  She turned her face into her pillow and prayed God for other thoughts and visions, and at length, while charging herself to see her mother in time to postpone the sending of her dispatch to Godfrey, she slept.

Sleep, of a sort, came also to Arthur, though not before many an evil imagination had come back to tease and sting his galled mind.

What chafed oftenest was the fact that Isabel, had he allowed it, would have sought to argue down his belief that Leonard loved her.  Great heaven! what must be her feeling toward him, that she should offer to argue such a question?  She might truly deny all knowledge of his passion, but oh, where were her quick outcries of womanly abhorrence?  Where was the word that Leonard Byington was no more to her than any other man,-that word which would have been the first to flash from her if conscience had not stopped it?  Twice he sprang up in his bed, whispering:  “They love!  They love!  Each knows it of the other!  They love!”

The second time, as he stared, suddenly he saw them!  They stood just beyond the foot of his couch, wrapped in each other’s arms.  Choking with wrath, freezing with horror, he slid to the floor; but at his first step they floated apart.  Isabel glided toward her own door, fading as she went, and dissolved in a broad moonbeam.  Leonard, as he receded, grew every instant more real, until, at his pursuer’s second step, he melted through a window and was gone.  Arthur sprang to the spot and stared out and down; but all he saw was the moon, the frosty night, and the silent, motionless garden.

With a whisper of fierce purpose he turned and noiselessly threw on his clothes, then clutched his head in his hands in a wild effort to recall what the purpose was, and by and by lay quietly down again on his bed.  He could not recollect; but the inner tumult quieted more and more, and after a time, without putting off any part of his dress, he drew the bedcovers over himself, and in a few moments was partially asleep.  So for an hour or more he lay in half-waking dreams, ghastly with phantoms and breathless with dismay of his own ferocious strivings.  Then he rose once more, and, with the noiselessness which habit had perfected, left his room, moved down the upper hall and the stair, and let himself out into the garden.  Wadded in his arms he bore one or two of the coverings from his bed.  He took his way to the pond.

He was walking in his sleep.

At an earlier day Isabel would have been awakened by her husband’s softest movement; but now, used to his stirrings, weary in body and mind, and in some degree reassured, she slept on unstartled until Arthur’s return.

He came as silently as he had gone, and was empty-handed.  He had tied a great stone in the two bed-coverings, and through the thin new ice of the hole where Minnie had broken in had sunk them in the black depth under the shelving rock.  He was still asleep.

The door between the two chambers gave a faint sound as he opened it, yet neither mother nor child moved.  A moment passed, and he had reached the bed.  Another went by, and Isabel was awake, wildly but vainly trying to scream, to rise.  A knee was on her bosom, two hands grappled her throat, and two out-starting eyes were close to hers.  Her husband was strangling her.

Then he too awoke.  With a horrified cry he recoiled, and she, for the first time in her life in a transport of terror, hurled him, in the strength of her frenzy, to the farther side of the bed, and writhing out on the opposite side, crept under it and lay still.  In a torture of bewilderment and remorse Arthur buried his face in the bedside.  Then, helpless to distinguish what he had done from what he had dreamed, he sprang back to the place where Isabel had lain sleeping, and lo, it was empty.

“Oh, was it thou, was it thou?” he wailed, in a stifled voice.  “Was it not he?”

Whispering and moaning her name, hearkening and groping, he sought her from corner to corner, first of her room and then of his own, and then went to the hall and to other rooms in the same harrowing quest.

Isabel crept forth and darted to her babe.  Yet as she leaned to take it in her arms her better judgment told her the child was safe.  The husband too, and every one beside, were safer from his jealous wrath while the babe remained.  With one anguished knitting of her hands over it she left it, and fled in her night-dress.  Arthur’s course was made plain by his moanings, and easily avoiding him, she glided down a back stair, out into the arbor, and across to her mother’s cottage and bed-chamber.  As she did so he returned hurriedly to his room, with low cries of less wretched conviction, and looked eagerly under his bed and then under hers.  Thereupon the last hope died, and he dropped to his face on the floor in abject agony.