But during the brief pause he made, came a backward recoil of that impulse which had swept him on. All at once he was cold, and wavered. Gnulemah was sitting with her elbow on her knee, her strange eyes fixed upon him. Had he duly considered what effect all this might have on her? In aiming at his own life, might not the sword pass also through hers? Abruptly to behold sin,—to find in the first man she had learnt to know, the sinner,—to be left this burden on her untried soul,—might this not ruin more than her earthly happiness? Did she still love him, such love could end only in misery; should she hate him who of all men was bound to protect her defencelessness,—that were misery indeed!
This misgiving, arresting his hand at the instant of delivering the final blow, almost discouraged the much-tried man. He glanced sullenly toward the edge of the cliff, only a few yards off. A new thought jarred through his nerves! He got up and walked to the brink. Full sixty feet to the bottom.
Gnulemah also rose slowly, and stretched herself like a tired child, sending a lazy tension through every noble limb and polished muscle. She sighed with a deep breathing in and out, and pressed her hands against her temples.
“I was not made to understand such things. Tell me of what you have done or seen—I shall understand that. The things my love does not enter only trouble me and make me sad.”
As she spoke, she turned away towards the house. She saw, or thought she saw, a man’s figure stealing cautiously behind a clump of bushes near the north-eastern corner. Her listlessness fell from, her like a mantle, and she watched, motionless!
Her last words had goaded Balder past bearing. As she turned away, his face looked grim and forlorn. He balanced with half-raised arms on the cliff’s brink. The river slumbered bluely on below, peace was aloft in the sky, and joy in the trees and grass. But in the man were darkness and despair and loathing of his God-given life!
The thing he meditated was not to be, however. Close in shore a little boat glided into view, beating up against stream. In the stern, the sheet in one hand and the tiller in the other, sat Balder’s old friend Charon. He nodded up at the young man with a recognizing grin. Then he laid his tiller-hand aside his brown cheek and sang out,—
“Look out there, Capt’n! Davy Jones’s got back,—run foul of you!”
The next moment he put down the helm and ran out.
Meantime Balder, coloring from shame, had stepped back from his dangerous position; and the peril was past. But the paltering irresolution which he had at all points displayed urged him to redeem himself,—else was he lower than a criminal. He went towards Gnulemah,—knelt down,—caught her dress,—he knew not what he did! In a blind dance of sentences he told her that he was a murderer, that all he had said pointed at himself,