But that fear did not much disquiet him; he trusted too deeply in his judge to believe that she would justify it. In short, Gnulemah was in his opinion right-minded, exactly in proportion as she should convict him of being in the wrong. Balder resigned the helm of his vessel, laden as she was with the fruits of years of thought and speculation, at the critical moment of her voyage,—resigned her to the guidance of a woman’s unreasoning intuition. He might almost as well have averred that the highest reach of intellect is to a perception of the better worth and wisdom of an unlearned heart.
Balder tells an untruth.
By way of enheartening himself for what he was to do, Balder kissed the posy of Gnulemah’s fragrant footsteps. He kept his eyes down, lest she should see something in them to distract her attention from his story. He must go artfully to work,—gain her assent to the abstract principles before marshalling them against himself.
Meanwhile Gnulemah had picked up a gold beetle, and was examining it with a certain grave interest.
“I never told you how I came by this ring of Hiero’s. It was the night before I first saw you, Gnulemah.”
“The ring guided you to me!” said she, glancing at his downcast visage.
“Perhaps it did!” he muttered, struck by the ingenious superstition; and he eyed the keen diamond half suspiciously. How fiercely the little serpents were struggling for it! “But Hiero—he has lost it, and you will see him no more!”
“You are with me!” returns she, shining out at him from beneath her level brows. What should she know of death and parting?
Balder still forbore to raise his face. Gnulemah was in a frolicsome humor, the reaction of her foregoing solemnity. But Balder, who deemed this hour the gravest of his life, was taken aback by her unseasonable gayety. Casting about for means to sober her,—an ungracious thing for a lover to do!—he hit upon the gold beetle.
“Dead; the poor little beetle! Do you know what death is, Gnulemah?”
“It is what makes life. The sun dies every night, to get life for the morning. And trees die when cold comes, so as to smile out in green leaves again,—greener than if there had been no death. So it is with all things.”
“Not with everything,” said Balder, taking her light-heartedness very gravely. “That gold beetle in your hand is dead, and will never live or move again.”
But at that Gnulemah smiled; and bringing her hand, with the beetle in it, near her perfect lips, she lent it a full warm breath,—enough to have enlivened an Egyptian scarabaeus,—and behold! the beetle spread its wings and whizzed away. Before Balder could recover from this unexpected refutation, the lovely witch followed up her advantage.
“You thought, perhaps, that Hiero was as dead as the little beetle; but he lives more beautifully in you!”