On second thoughts the puzzle had dissolved. She accepted his negations, and, woman-like, improved on them. The marriage service was humbug; therefore she had willed to have none of it. The attitude was touching. It might have been convenient, had he been less in love.
But he was deeply in love, so deeply that in good earnest he longed to lift and set her above all women. For this, nonsensical though they were, due rites must be observed.
At the last pinch she had broken away. Was it possible, then, that after all she did not love him? She had crossed her arms once and called herself his slave. . . .
Not for one moment did he understand that other scepticism which, forced out of faith, clasps and clings to reverence; which, though it count the rite inefficient, yet sees the meaning, and counts the moment so holy that to contaminate the rite is to poison all.
Not as yet did he understand one whit of this. But he vehemently desired her, and his desire was straight. Because it was straight, while he rode some inkling of the truth pierced him.
For, as he rode, he recalled how she had cast up an arm and turned to flee. His eyes had rested confusedly on the breast-knot of scarlet leaves, and it seemed to him, as he rode, that he had seen her heart beating there through her ribs.
“YET HE WILL COME—“.
The cabin stood close above the fall. It was built of oak logs split in two, with the barked and rounded sides turned outward. Pete Vanders would have found pine logs more tractable and handier to come by, and they would have outlasted his time; but, being a Dutchman, he had built solidly by instinct.
Also, he had chosen his ledge cunningly or else with amazing luck. A stairway shaped in the solid rock—eight treads and no more—led down to the very brink of the first cascade; yet through all these years, with their freshets and floods, the cabin had clung to its perch. Within doors the ears never lost the drone of the waters. There were top-notes that lifted or sank as the wind blew, but below them the deep bass thundered on.
Ruth had doffed her riding-dress for a bodice and short skirt of russet, and moved about the cabin tidying where she had tidied a score of times already. Through the window-opening drifted wisps of smoke, aromatic and pungent, from the fire she had built in an angle of the crags a few yards from the house. (It had been the Dutchman’s hearth. She had found it and cleared the creepers away, and below them the rock-face was yet black with the smoke of old fires.) Some way up the gorge, where, at the foot of a smaller waterfall, the river divided and swirled about an island covered with sweet grass—a miniature meadow—her mare grazed at will. About a fortnight ago, having set aside three days for the search, on the second Ruth had found a circuitous way through the woods. A part of it she had cleared with a billhook, and since then Madcap had trodden a rough pathway with her frequent goings and comings. It had immensely lightened the labour of furnishing, but she feared that the pasturage would last but a day or two. Her lover, when he came, must devise means of sending the mare back.