“The cause was worth the risk,” replied the other, sententiously.
Helwyse shot a keen look at his companion, but could discern in him none of the common symptoms of guilt. The priest, however, was a mine of sunless riddles, one lode connecting with another; it was idle attempting to explore them all at once. So the young man recurred to that vein which was of most immediate interest to himself.
“Have you no knowledge concerns Gnulemah’s origin?” he inquired.
Manetho laid his long brown hand on Balder’s arm.
“If she be not Gnulemah, daughter of fire, it must rest with you to give her another name,” said he.
“I care not who was her father or her mother,” rejoined the lover, after a short silence; “Gnulemah is herself!”
The lithe fingers on his arm clutched it hard for a moment, and Manetho averted his face. When he turned again, his features seemed to express exultation, mingled with a sinister flavor of some darker emotion.
“Son of Thor, you have your father’s frankness. Do you love her?”
“You saw that I loved her,” returned Balder, his black eyes kindling somewhat intolerantly.
“If I can hasten by one hour the consummation of that love, my life will have been worth the living!”
“That’s kindly spoken!” exclaimed Helwyse, heartily; and, opening his strong white hand, he took the narrow brown one into its grasp. He had not been prepared for so friendly a profession.
“When I have seen your soul tied to hers in a knot that even death may not loosen,—and if it be permitted me to tie the knot, I shall have drained the cup of earthly happiness!” He spoke with a deliberate intensity not altogether pleasant to the ear. He would not relinquish Balder’s hand, as he continued in his high-strung vein,—
“I know at last for whom my flower has bloomed. Through the world, across seas, by strange accidents has Providence brought you safe to this spot; and has made you what you are, and her incomparable among women.—You love her with heart and soul, Balder Helwyse?”
“So that the world seems frail; and I—except for my love—insignificant!”
In the sudden emphasis of his question, Manetho had risen to his feet; and Balder likewise had started up, before giving his reply. As he spoke the words strongly forth, his swarthy companion seemed to catch them in the air, and breathe them in. Slowly an expression of joy, that could hardly be called a smile, welled forth from his long eyes, and forced its way, with dark persistency of glee, through all his face.
“By you only in the world would I have her loved!” he said; and repeated it more than once.
He remained a full minute leaning with one arm on the altar, his eyes abstracted. Then he said abruptly,—
“Why not be married soon?”
The lover looked up questioningly, a deep throb in his heart.