“And now I know! In the imminent and instant presence of my marriage I know that I shall love you none the less, shall tempt and be tempted none the less. And, in this resistless, eternal love, I may fall, dragging you down with me to our endless punishment.
“It was not the
fear of punishment that kept me true to my
vows before; it was something within me, I don’t know what.
“But, if I were wedded with him, it would be fear of punishment alone that could save me—not terror of flames; I could endure them with you, but the new knowledge that has come to me that my punishment would be the one thing I could not endure—eternity without you!
“Neither in heaven
nor in hell may I have you. Is there no
way, my beloved? Is there no place for us?
* * * * *
“I have been to the porch to tell Sir George that I must postpone the wedding. I did not tell him. He was standing with Magdalen Brant, and she was crying. I did not know she had received bad news. She said the news was bad. Perhaps Sir George can help her.
“I will tell him later that the wedding must be postponed.... I don’t know why, either. I cannot think. I can scarcely see to write. Oh, help me once more, my darling! Do not come to Varicks’! That is all I desire on earth! For we must never, never, see each other again!”
* * * * *
Stunned, I reeled to my feet and stumbled out into the moonlight, staring across the misty wilderness into the east, where, beyond the forests, somewhere, she lay, perhaps a bride.
A deathly chill struck through and through me. To a free man, with one shred of pity, honor, unselfish love, that appeal must be answered. And he were the basest man in all the world who should ignore it and show his face at Varick Manor—were he free to choose.
But I was not free; I was a military servant, pledged under solemn oath and before God to obedience—instant, unquestioning, unfaltering obedience.
And in my trembling hand I held my written orders to report at Varick Manor.
At dawn we left the road and struck the Oneida trail north of the river, following it swiftly, bearing a little north of east until, towards noon, we came into the wagon-road which runs over the Mayfield hills and down through the outlying bush farms of Mayfield and Kingsborough.
Many of the houses were deserted, but not all; here and there smoke curled from the chimney of some lonely farm; and across the stump pasture we could see a woman laboring in the sun-scorched fields and a man, rifle in hand, standing guard on a vantage-point which overlooked his land.
Fences and gates became more frequent, crossing the rough road every mile or two, so that we were constantly letting down and replacing cattle-bars, unpinning rude gates, or climbing over snake fences of split rails.