Towards midnight of the same day he approaches the house by way of the winding avenue, his violin-case safe in hand. He steps out joyfully beneath the wide-spread minuet of twinkling stars. On his way he comes to a moss-grown bench at the foot of a mighty elm,—the bench on which he sat with Helen during the stirring moments of their last interview. Manetho’s soul overflows to-night with flattering hopes, and he has spare emotion for any demand. He drops on his knees beside this decayed old bench, and kisses it twice or thrice with tender vehemence; stretches out his arms to embrace the air, and ripples forth a half-dozen sentences,—pleading, insinuating, passionate. He can love her again as much as ever, now that the wrong done him is on the eve of requital.
But his mood is no less fickle than melting. Already he is up and away, almost dancing along the shadowed, romantic tree-aisle, his eyes glistening black in the starlight,—no longer with a lover’s luxurious sorrow, but with the happy anticipation of an artless child, promised a holiday and playthings. So lightsome and expansive is Manetho’s heart, the hollow hemisphere of heaven seems none too roomy for it!
Evil as well as good knows its moments of bliss,—its hours! Hell is the heaven of devils, and they want no better. Often do the wages of sin come laden with a seeming blessing that those of virtue lack. The sinner looks upon Satan’s face, and it is to him as the face of God!
But from the womb of this grim truth is born a noble consolation. Were hell mere torment, and joy in heaven only, where were the good man’s merit? Only when the choice lies between two heavens—the selfish and the unselfish—is the battle worthy the fighting! No human soul dies from earth that attains not heaven,—that heaven which the heart chiefly sought while in this world; and herefrom is the genesis of virtue. Sin brings its self-inflicted penalties there as here; but hell is still the happiness of man, heaven of God!
Reaching the house, Manetho passed through the open door, crossed the hall with his customary noiselessness, and entered the conservatory. Despite the darkness, he was at once aware of the motionless group beneath the palm-trees. A stranger in the house was something so unprecedented that he could not repress a throb of alarm. Nurse looked up and beckoned him. Drawing near, he heard the long, deep breathing of the sleeper. With a sudden fore-glimpse of the truth, he knelt down, and bent over the upturned countenance.
Though the beard was close-shaven and the hair cropped short, there could be no doubt about the face. His guest had come before him, and was lying defenceless at his feet; but Manetho harbored no thought of violence. He pressed his slender hands together with an impulse of sympathy. “Poor fellow!” he whispered, “how he has suffered! How the horror of blood-guiltiness must have tortured him! The noble Helwyse hair,—all gone! Too dear a price to pay for the mere sacrifice of a human life! And pain and all might have been spared him,—poor fellow! poor fellow!” Manetho lacked but little of shedding true tears over the evidence of his dearest foe’s useless dread and anguish. Did he wish Balder to bring undulled nerves to his own torture-chamber?